live with less: ephemera


I go on about decluttering a lot, but for good reason, I think. Living with less crap in your home has three big benefits:

It gives you more space. I’ve mentioned before the idea of pricing up the square footage of your home that is devoted to storage; how much are you paying for all that space? What else could you use it for?

It gives you more time. Less stuff means less time spent arranging, sorting, tidying and hunting. It also makes it a lot quicker and less annoying to clean.

It sets you free. I’m cynical and scientific, so when I say this, I do not mean it in a spiritual sense; rather that somehow, letting go of your past possessions helps your brain let go of past experiences too. I can’t explain it any better than that, but time and again I have seen how clearing my clutter makes space for new thoughts, perspectives, ideas and experiences in my life, and I can’t help but correlate the two.

Have I convinced you? If you love your current level of possessions, for the aesthetic, or just for the pleasure it brings you, then you probably don’t need to read on.
If however, you’re like me and constantly striving to simplify, then hello friend! This month I’m focusing on ephemera – a lovely little word that the OED defines as “things that exist or are used or enjoyed for only a short time”. Here’s my somewhat ruthless approach:


  • Magazines, newspapers, catalogues; store these in a basket, and call that basket the paper recyling bin. Empty it, into the fire or the recycling collection, every week.
  • Go paperless with as many bills as possible. Open your post over the bin; keep only the actual letter/bill. If it’s vitally important & needs keeping forever, file it. Otherwise, stuff in a box marked with the year, & shred and burn the contents after a year has passed. (Feign a house fire if this gets you into any sort of trouble…).
  • Prune back your book collection. Are books ephemera? My new stance is yes, or, at any rate, they should be. All but the most magical of tomes should be destined for rehoming after you’ve read them. Do not dedicate your square footage to a giant monument of ‘things you have read’ and ‘things you haven’t read but would like people to think you have when they visit’. Perhaps a bit extreme, but I have turned all my book spines to the wall; it looks prettier, but more importantly it removes any temptation to ‘say something’ with my book collection.
  • CDs and DVDs. Their moment is gone. Sell the lot and buy a netflix/Rdio subscription.
  • Christmas cards, birthday cards, letters, postcards, newspaper cuttings, thank you notes. Make an Evernote notebook called ‘Sentimental’. Use the scanner app to photograph any you can’t bear to part with. This frees you up to discard the paper copies, that only ever sit in boxes gathering dust & guilt, in my experience.
  • Children’s artwork. Such a toughie – Orla is churning this stuff out now like a Kaizen production line these days. My first step now is to look at a picture together and have her tell me about it – enjoy it, really admire it, display it for a few days, and then accept it has served it’s purpose. I save a few favourite pictures to laminate and use as place mats, and save the biggest ones for giftwrap for family birthdays. When really special things come along, we’ll probably keep them, but I know we can only really cherish a precious few, and I’m not ready to fill up that quota yet. So we photograph any favourites, and then sensitively discard.
  • ‘Treasure’ – seaglass, pinecones, pretty rocks, dried flowers… Fun to gather and enjoy for a while, but the joy is generally in the finding, not the keeping. Let them go back to nature and hunt for more.
  • Noticeboards & fridge doors – take everything off, magnets included. Photograph anything on there that is actually useful, add the dates to your calendar. Discard the rest – including the magnets!
  • Souvenirs– do not mistake these things for memories. True memories are in your head, not your hands, and cannot be lost by donating or discarding an associated item. You still went to Paris, whether or not you keep the ticket to prove it. 😉

How do you manage this type of clutter? Do you like to hang onto this stuff, or are you on the ruthless end of the spectrum with me? Do you think I have a problem? 😉 I’d love to hear your perspective.