Nice Life Reminders Pip-Life

The life-changing magic of cluttering up

June 6, 2016

I was reading an article yesterday that suggested it’s great for kids to grow up surrounded by books for a few different reasons.

Piles of books. Books ahoy. Books for all. Hooray!

It made me feel happy and cosy. It makes perfect sense. Take me, for instance. I grew up surrounded by books. I am still a bit of a lunatic at times, let’s be honest, but books have been the one constant in my life.

Books showed me how much I didn’t know and how different people could be. Piles of books and volume-stacked shelves represented possibilities and confirmed the importance of curiosity, hope, imagination, story and discipline. Each title was proof that the author had something to say, took the time to say it and figured that someone would care enough to read it.

Shelves were packed tight with ready titles. You’d have to pull tightly on one to pluck it from its place, thus releasing the others so that they’d jostle more freely and be easier to grab. What didn’t fit within the shelves would horizontally line the top of the rows, or be piled in teetering stacks in front of the shelves.

These shelves were the heart of our house. What I couldn’t read today or tomorrow would always be there, waiting to be read next week or next year or even further down the track. The stories were written and they’d happily lie in wait until they were ready to be read.

The writer of the kid-book-ace article mentioned that tidying expert (and – from all accounts – adorable, helpful lady) Marie Kondo recommends people rationalise their books to a small, essential library. She’s even suggested people TEAR OUT THE BEST PAGES OF BOOKS AND THEN DISCARD titles if you’re trying to lose bookish weight.  GASP. (I am not sure she continues to recommend this method, possibly due to all the booklovers tears threatening to flood her tidy life.)

I am worried about the ditch-your-books-type things Marie says. The much-lauded, widely extracted,  joy-seeking backbone of her book is not my favourite thing. Let me be up front and confess that I am actually not keen to read her book. I downloaded the book. I wanted to give it a go. But in the end I could not bring myself to dive in.

This is not because I am an in-denial hoarder (I am really not), but because I know that how we feel about objects today is most certainly not how we will feel about them tomorrow (RIP ALL my childhood diaries, teenage poems, 70s Barbie collection and entire 80s accessory wardrobe… sob!)

I also know how much the (seemingly) entire world loves to get caught up in ‘life-changing’ movements and apply simple protocols to complicated situations in the hope that everything will just be the heck okay.

It makes me nervous, the idea of cranking our individuality through a magical fixing machine so that we might be like/please the other people. I’m pretty sure this approach doesn’t work in the long-term and despite best intentions (thanks cute Marie!), ignoring personal nuance and history and just FEELINGS seems perilous.

While I love the idea of being kind to your socks, getting more sorted, cheering up your sad clothes and thanking the things you are donating or throwing away, I am also wondering if there are going to be a LOT of angry people wanting back their ‘non-joy-sparking-stuff-of-today’, tomorrow. Maybe you’re going through particularly joyless period in your life? And then you get rid of a whole bunch of things. And then you feel even less joyful. And around and around it goes. Argh.

Take my Nanna, for instance. In her tiny flat are a LOT of things, all arranged in a way that’s pleasing to her eye, but definitely heavy on quantity over quality. She’s prone to get her knick-knack on, let’s say. When she sits in her little cluttered apartment, some things she sees will make her dewy-eyed, remind her of people that she loved. Some things will make her giggle. Others will make her proud or nostalgic or sad or excited. There might be joy in there… but all the other feelings are there too, making up the busy, beautiful, Nanna-ish backdrop of her home life. Who’d want to throw those feels away?

And what of the hopeful people in the almost bookless homes inspired by this decluttering ideal?

I mean, how are they going to experience the life-changing joy of sitting in front of your own personal library in your dressing gown, running your fingers along the dusty spines of possibility, considering which adventure to take next?

Will pre-teens miss out on the life-changing thrill of gleefully reading a too-trashy or too-saucy or too-dark book that their parents slotted into the shelves and forgotten, years before?

Will kids miss out on the life-changing confirmation that piles, stacks and rows of words, pictures and stories are the sure and steady spine of life, waiting to be explored and devoured during life’s quieter moments?

It’s too horrible to ponder, as far as I’m concerned. Won’t someone think of the books?

pip signature




  • Reply Paula March 25, 2017 at 12:23 AM

    The western world is so homogenised. Same same and not different. Pity we have to rely on other people to tell us how to live our lives. Think Marie Kondo might have OCD.

  • Reply Askbew March 23, 2017 at 12:00 PM

    Also missing from a bookless home: the opportunity to have someone see a title on your shelf, exclaim over their love of or polite derision for said book, and generate a lengthy conversation. While I love that the number of books on my iPad does not draw the frustration of my husband over how many books I need for one trip, I do love a bookshelf filled with favorites and yet-to-reads.

  • Reply Anissa Ljanta March 18, 2017 at 7:15 PM

    Yes! I went and had a rant after someone stepped into my house and commented on how much ‘stuff’ I had. Spoken like I had some communicable disease. Hmpf! Here’s what a wrote (ranted) :

  • Reply jules July 23, 2016 at 4:38 AM

    I adore books. We are moving cross country and I am packing up the books. So far, I have about 30 liqueur boxes. I have purged some I got from someone else and not my style, but for the most part, I’m moving them all with me.

  • Reply Rachell June 25, 2016 at 5:27 AM

    What occurs to me Pip is that some teens may already not have access to bookshelves like we did – with e-readers the books in the house might already have gone. I enjoy my Kindle, but also have a good bookcase full of old favourites. I did go through my shelves and gave many bags of books away at the end of last year – but only those I KNEW I wouldn’t reread, namely because I’d had them so long and hadn’t. Also there were some I was ambivalent about, but that’s not sorting by that fluffy sounding joy thing rule. I haven’t read the book either but to be honest I don’t need help to declutter and I’m not a huge hoarder. What I was going to say before I waffled myself off track was; if everyone in a home has their own Kindle then the kids won’t have the fun of reading the books of their parents. That was good – sharing books.

    All you say makes sense. At least e Bay and car boot sellers will do well when these ruthless declutterers try to replace items!

  • Reply Judith June 17, 2016 at 2:28 PM

    I have a floor to ceiling bookcase covering one wall that is overflowing with books and it is so hard to declutter.I love the look of it being choc-a-block full, it makes me happy.

  • Reply Louise June 11, 2016 at 11:26 AM

    I read yhr book. I rolled my undies. I sold the book on ebay ???? Got rid of some clutter….

  • Reply Wendy June 10, 2016 at 4:35 PM

    I’m just excited because I have that exact same strawberry jam container (also one with cute plums). My parents had the set of four…I think one had bees for the honey.
    PS. I like a bit of clutter myself.

  • Reply kim June 8, 2016 at 10:19 AM

    Oh I loved that, Pip! I’ve often thought about the whole decluttering movement like this. I’m not into mess per se, a bit of a neat freak mostly but I love my stuff, especially the stuff that brings memories to my mind and a smile to my face. Those things are priceless. I mention this to my friends who all seem to be reading that book that’s doing the rounds about throwing everything out and only keeping one of this or that. Where’s the colourful life in that? Thanks for sharing. You always seem to steal the words right out of my mind…but you always put it so much better than I could. xxx

  • Reply Donna Bridges June 7, 2016 at 5:06 PM

    I’m all for the simplifying and decluttering so far I have gained 2 bulk lots of scrapbooking supplies , 10 teacups and saucers and a Royal Albert milk jug, cake tins in shapes and some vintage tupperware still in very good order . I encourage anyone decluttering to send teacups this way 🙂 it’s really like all fads with catchphrases in 5 years all these tossed away things will be retro and everyone will suddenly ned to have them. Be you be who you are even in your home. I love the words of English Textile designer (please insert name brain fade) who said “have nothing in your home you do not know to be beautiful” …… Also “A thing of beauty is a joy forever ” …. also “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”

    • Reply Rachell June 25, 2016 at 5:30 AM

      William Morris 🙂

      • Reply Rachell June 25, 2016 at 5:30 AM

        Ps: beautiful or useful*

  • Reply Tabitha June 7, 2016 at 1:50 PM

    So funny, as I have been trying to simplify and get rid of some of the clutter, mostly as I have a baby and toddler, and having less ‘stuff’ makes it easier to keep the house nice. But one thing I am still a major hoarder of, and flat out refuse to ‘de-clutter’ is my books. I just love books, even with more online and digital books available, I still prefer the beauty of a paper book that you can hold, feel the paper and enjoy. And I have a ‘small’ addiction to buying recipe books, which i think is based on the nostalgia of my mothers big cookbook collection that I used to love as a child, and how I learned to cook

  • Reply Larissa June 7, 2016 at 12:33 PM

    I’m embracing both sides of the clutter/ declutter thing. We (as in the other half and I) are at the stage where we’re feeling so weighed down by everything we have, which has gotten even more insane since we did the breeding thing. BUT for us it’s not about purging ALL THE THINGS….it’s more about going through the kitchen cupboards or chucking paperwork, donating all the no longer played with toys. It’s about keeping on top of the clutter, rather than losing it completely. I like a home with character, with the odd knick-knack, I love colour, I love a sense of coziness. There’s nothing more boring than seeing blog after blog of carefully staged scandi-bland. Or the smugness of another “minimalist” who crows about only owning 100 things. Our books are here to stay, so our boys can snuggle up in a corner and look through out of date atlases and see how the world has changed, or look through my old plant text books, or fall in love with Greek myths or the planets or pick up my battered copy of To Kill a Mockingbird. There’s magic to be had amongst the pages….

  • Reply Kylie June 7, 2016 at 8:46 AM

    Hello Pip,
    I loved those books in your photo and had forgotten all about them until this morning so thanks for the memories!
    (P.S. I Love You was a fave)
    I am a bit over-the-top about having a clean and tidy house (it’s in my genes – I can’t help it) but I love collecting/keeping stuff (treasure?) too, the answer to this dilemma? Two fill to bursting sheds!
    I would love to see a snap of your Nan’s house btw.
    Have a lovely day.

    • Reply Kylie June 7, 2016 at 8:47 AM

      that’s FULL to bursting!

  • Reply Becca June 6, 2016 at 10:41 PM

    You’ve totally nailed so many of the joys of growing up in a household stuffed with books *nostaliga alert*! I definitely put a lot of my creativity and zeal for grammar down to those overcrowded shelves in my parents’ house. Very rarely can I bear to part with a book. They are treasures. 🙂

  • Reply Nicole June 6, 2016 at 8:04 PM

    Yes! I borrowed Marie’s ebook from the library last week and I’ve only read the first chapter (or introduction). I don’t think I can go on. I felt myself beginning to get worried I’d regret throwing away things I didn’t particularly like that day but might live again the following week. I do need to declutter to some extent but I think I’ll get around to it in my own way.

  • Reply Sara June 6, 2016 at 2:57 PM

    Yay for piles of books that threaten to fall out of cupboards because the shelves are full.!!

  • Reply Lisa June 6, 2016 at 10:27 AM

    You make very good points. I dumped tons of crap 8 years ago and now but much less than ever before. I’m happy with my “clutter,” but have learned that not everything need regard my house as it’s “forever home.” I look forward to reading more of your writing.

  • Reply Michelle June 6, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    Perfectly said Pip. Hear Hear!

  • Reply Saartje June 6, 2016 at 10:09 AM

    I hear what you’re saying, Pip, but at the same time I think Marie Kondo’s book and others like it have value. I know you’re not saying that they don’t – I just want to throw in my two cents about the ‘movement’ :-).

    I don’t think it’s wise to follow any lifestyle philosophy word for word, whether they are a book about decluttering, the bible, a marxist manifesto etc. If your life is working for you, then why change things? But if it isn’t, it might be a good idea to look around for things that might make it work for you, and pick and personalise what you find to what you need at that particular time.

    I have read Kondo’s book and a bunch of things about minimalism, and what I take away from them is this. We live in a world that is obsessed with stuff, where the norm is that more stuff is always better, and where stuff becomes an end in and of itself. But maybe it can’t hurt to look at whether this is working for us or not, instead of thinking that more stuff will make us feel better (if only my house looked perfect, I need to go shopping because I had a crap day at work,…)

    Another thing I find in these books is an attempt to simplify things. There is so much going on around us, and there are so many choices and decisions to make. And for some people that causes a lot of anxiety. From deciding which tomato paste to buy at the grocery store out of eleven different brands, to standing in front of your walk-in wardrobe in the morning thinking you have nothing to wear, to deciding where you will take a holiday when you have the whole world at your fingertips, to… And on top of that, we often tend to believe that one decision is the right one – which is crap, obviously, but that doesn’t stop us from thinking it. If you can minimise some of the stuff in your home, at least you have one place where you don’t have to be anxious about making decisions?

    There’s a sense in these books that while it is ok to do things just because, maybe we could bring some ‘intention’ back into our lives. What are the things we like, what makes us feel good, what is important to us, and then do things according to that. I actually found this particular point in your last book as well, Pip. – I loved your book, by the way. I was going through a rough time when I read it, and it really helped to have someone take me by the hand and remind me of a bunch of things I already knew but that I tend to forget when life isn’t great.

    Anyway. I love my books too. If anyone touches my books, I can’t be held responsible for the consequences. But I also like simple and a-lot-less in a lot of other parts of my life.

  • Reply Amy June 6, 2016 at 9:15 AM

    Yes! I love my stuff. All the random bits and pieces speak of a life, memories, family… I don’t want to get rid of all my special stuff for the sake of tidyness. How incredibly dull to be surrounded by carefully curated niceness.

    And ripping pages out of books? Good heavens.

  • Reply Jane June 6, 2016 at 9:11 AM

    Thanks for writing this Pip! Whilst I fully admit our house requires some decluttering in areas, and i attempt it from time to time, from what I have heard of the Kondo book, it sounds a bit extreme. All this ‘stuff’ people are ‘freeing’ themselves of… it doesn’t just disappear. I bet the charity shops can tell when they’re just had another Kondo-load dumped on them. I hope the book encourages people to carefully consider their future consumption so people in these now clutter-free homes don’t just begin the process of reaccumulating, thereby actually consuming more. As for ripping out pages of books… well that just convinced me I won’t read hers!

  • Reply Melissa Gaggiano June 6, 2016 at 9:06 AM

    I’m all for a good ole fashioned tidy up. I did it last year. I ran with guidelines – if it hasn’t been used in five years, then it goes. I emphasise, that was just a guideline, because it went without saying that items of sentimental value were not touched – books, comics, 80s dolls. I will get rid of the ice cream maker that was never wished for, and too mind boggling to understand. But I will never get rid of my beloved books.

  • Reply Lynn June 6, 2016 at 8:13 AM

    This needed to be said! Thank you. Who could ever think of culling books? Meh! And as for the decluttering…a home reflects a personality, an existence…the thought of replacing evidence of family quirks with a blank canvas makes me feel a bit itchy

  • Reply Laura June 6, 2016 at 8:04 AM

    I’m glad you wrote this Pip. It worries me a bit, how ‘trendy’ this stuff is and trends never last, like you say, what happens next? But also, the mentality of throwing stuff out scares me. We are already so wasteful as a society, I don’t think it’s a good path to go down. And like you say, sometimes clutter is good! I’d be lost without my books and yarn and homely things.

  • Leave a Reply