Decluttering – pfft. These are the things we should keep forever.

Everyone is into decluttering. Clear lines mean clear minds. Modern houses hardly even have books any more, let alone dust-covered bric-a-brac. Chucking out is now an art, a skill and a highly desired character trait.

We seem to feel that ‘having things’ shows slothfulness, laziness and similar judgments that society projects onto the obese.

I’m no hoarder. Really I’m not. My husband holds onto way too much and it drives me nuts.  I can’t go into the storage room under the house there are too many things we don’t need like stacks of suitcases, Wiggles biscuit tins, bits of wood he may do ‘something with’ one day and assorted paraphernalia.

He shops like we are preparing for a nuclear winter – we always have too many tins and packets and toilet rolls. Until we don’t have any.  He gets his hoarding from his mum – she has kept his plastic baby bowl, threadbare face-washers and his first pottery.

I don’t do that.

things women apologise for
Author Sarah MacDonald.

Yet I can't completely declutter.  Last week I found a few baby teeth that once belonged to my now nearly teenage kids. I know the teeth have to go. They are disgusting.

But they are the last bits of my babies.


This is where I find decluttering, reducing, recycling and removing difficult. When sentimentality is involved. When there are cherished artefacts that build, reactivate and preserve memories. When they are objects that tell a story – a cup you bought on a perfect day with a lover, an art work given as a wedding present, figurines that we adored as a child.

These are the building blocks of us. They need to stay.

I had a friend in primary school who went back to live in a country that now doesn’t exist. Persia became Iran.

I was bereft. I loved Sabu so much and she loved me. As a parting gift she gave me a little red plastic house with a glittered roof to hang on my Christmas tree. I loved that house intensely - because it reminded me of her. Ever year I would hang it on the front of tree where I could see it. Every year my sister would move it to the back of the tree where it was hidden from view.

One year it disappeared – I suspected my styleloving sister probably hoiked it. She denied it. A part of me never trusted her again. I still miss that little red house.

So here are some things you will regret removing from our life. Things you should never declutter.

1.  Letters of love and loss

Come on - even old cynics like me can’t chuck love in scrawl. The yearning, the ardent adolescent avalanche of passion, the missing, aching, crazed cards. The bad poetry. The beautiful sentiment. Weird for your kids to find when you are gone, but wonderful for you to read before that happens.

My wonderful father died recently.  I still can't talk about it, or that much about him.  But reading the pile of condolence letters sent from people who knew him is incredibly enriching.  I feel so proud knowing he was a kind, humble and gorgeous man and that he helped other people and had a significant impact on their life.

We will keep those letters forever to remind us how lucky we were that we had him as long as we did.  To know he lives on in others and in me is heart-achingly beautiful.

The condolence letters helping us grieve

2. Childhood diaries or an early school project

My childhood diary had Holly Hobby on the front and a lock on the side.  It said things like “went swimming in the rain. Arms got wet. I hate butarfly". I chucked it.  But I kept my diary of travelling Europe aged 22 in bad clothes and backpacker stinginess. I can't read it, but one day I will.

My mum recently found my first book. I wrote it in sixth grade. It's called 'A vision splendid' and promises to be  an 'exiting adventure' about a girl and a horse and a boy at school everyone is mean to and the girl falls off her horse and he is the 'vision splendid' that rescues her. It's gold.

A vision splendid

3. Your school reports

Not for the marks. For the comments. Teachers aren't allowed to write the truth now, but in my day they said things like "Sarah needs to spend more time concentrating on her work than trying to entertain the class".

My parents didn't laugh at the time but we can now. What did yours say?

4. Year books

I found my high school year book last week. My write up called me 'mad' my quote was "where’s the gig guide Cath?". It made me remember how hard I tried to be different and cool.

5.  An article of clothing that you loved for a reason

Maybe it was a dress you wore the day you were at the beach and you felt beautiful and sexy and lovely and your skin was sun-kissed and smelt of singed cells and salt and the sun went down and the full moon came up over the ocean and the waves were full and you kissed someone and you felt like a goddess.

That dress holds your inner goddess within its weave.  Don't wear it, just keep it and hold it occasionally.

6. A smattering of the kids' best drawings and paintings

The progression of thinking they were 'gifted' to knowing they should drop art for the HSC is not just a track of disappointment. There’s a joy and abandonment and wonder in kids art.

I especially like the labelling. My son has a picture of him doing a drop-in on his skateboard; it's called "A drop-in feels like sitting on a boat on a lake looking at two rainbows, the sun is shining and your eating an ice-cream and the hand of God comes down to give you a High-Five".  As each work of art yellows and curls with age they will help you recall your kids' depth and deliciousness and how they thought the world was wonderful and so were you.

Me by my daughter

7. Your first record (or CD)

I still love my first singles by Sherbet and my first 'cool' single, The Pretenders Brass in Pocket.  I still know all the words to my first album, ABBA Arrival, and my first cool album Blondie's Parallel Lines. I held lunchtime concerts as Agnetha but I still want to become  Deborah Harry.

My first girl crush

8. Photos

Obvious. Only thing is, I haven’t got an from the last decade. They are all locked inside an electronic box. Every so often I think about putting them in albums.  Photos are what everyone grabs in a fire. Photos are memories you can touch. They are you though the years. All you want to remember and how good you looked and how you felt and who you loved and what made you you.

9. Your first job offer or pay check or CV

Look how far you’ve come! Celebrate it. Be thankful. Feel as rich as Joe Hockey. Just for a moment.

10. A few deeply significant and special objects

I still have some old art deco cinema letters made of tin that I bought from an antique shop in Sydney in my late 20s. My flatmate and I put them on the mantlepiece of the flat where we lived by the sea. I had L O V and E so she bought D Z and R.  We would change the letters with our moods so they spelt different things. love. loved. lover. evol. dove. One night we worked out how to use them all in one magnificent word ROZELDA (A was the V upside-down).  Rozelda became the symbol of our place and our time of experimenting with boys, with girls, with drugs, with looks, with love, with life and with who we were.

A friend loved Rozelda; a frequent visitor, he would talk about her in referential tones as if she was our mother, our friend and our ghost. He talked about her as 'a simple woman with a heart of gold' . He made Rozelda our guardian angel and our patron saint.

I still have the LOVE letters hanging up at my house. They are dented and the paint is flaking, but I look at them daily and I think of Micheal.  He died a few years ago.  I miss him so much, but he will always be is in my tin letters of love - and in my heart.

That cannot be removed, recycled or de-cluttered

The letters on my house now

I started with love letters and I've finished with love letters. But I'm sure you have more, or perhaps things you regret throwing out.

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