07.11.2016 Lifestyle

Outer calm, inner peace

Bernadette Malouf and Julie Copson believe a calm uncluttered home is a foundation stone for happiness

For the last number of years, the desire to find individual happiness in our capitalist society has been at the heart of many conversations. Indisputably, we live in a disposable society, where our need for possessions, commonly known as ‘excessive acquiring’, is a state which far exceeds necessity. As avid consumers, we were led to believe that accumulating stuff in a material world was supposed to make us feel better, although with stuff comes a compromised living space, and an increase in clutter. Not being able to find things amongst the chaos leads to annoyance and agitation, a loss of calmness. Clutter creates feelings of guilt for not being organised enough and a lack of competency and inadequacy. The popularity of storage sheds is a costly testament to the excess we hold onto and our inability to downsize.

When inner and outer lives collide

The book The Lost Art of Being Happy by Tony Wilkinson, states that “living happily depends on cultivating inner peace, through your inner life….. your thoughts, emotions, and desires – your entire mental and emotional state. Happiness is about what you think and believe, how you feel, how problems affect you.” Although obvious, often we focus instead on our external lives, on spending and acquiring things and then wonder why we are not happy. It’s when our inner and external lives are linked that we find serenity and peace.

Putting your house in order

There is nothing worse than arriving home and there is mess to deal with. In the words of the author of The Life Changing Magic of Tidying up (the Japanese art of decluttering and organizing), Marie Kondo, “Putting (your) house in order positively affects all other aspects of (your) lives…….A dramatic reorganization of the home causes correspondingly dramatic changes in lifestyle and perspective. It is life transforming……. When you put your house in order, you put your affairs and your past in order too. Tidying up is just the tool not the destination.”

Sparking Joy

In the course of decluttering your house, the most difficult task is negotiating and handling sentimental memorabilia which, although it may be old and harbor sadness and pain, just cannot be thrown away. Holding these items and asking if they ‘spark joy’ is important in dealing with them. Chapter titles in Marie Kondo’s book resonate with those who struggle with order and stuff, such as “Why can’t I keep my house in order?” “Finish discarding first”, “Tidying by category works like magic”, “Storing your stuff to make your life shine”, and “The magic of tidying dramatically transforms your life”.

One of our female clients kept her beautiful wedding dress from her first marriage, because she couldn’t part with it. The cathartic experience of ’letting go’ of this dress (a symbol of past romance and lost hope) was replaced by feelings of gratitude and liberation which enabled her to move on. Yet, just like purchasing those beautifully photographed cookbooks with full coloured images, no matter how much you wish those dishes would materialise on your dining table, it’s not going to happen without effort.

How to alter your life

When we modify our habits we alter our lives. 75% of people believe they feel happy when their house is tidy and in order. Contrary to feminist ideals, women are happier when their house is ordered and they can find things. It frees up their mind enormously to deal with other issues and pay attention to more important needs.

In order to declutter and organise your home, put in place some conditions:

  • Before reorganising your wardrobe, room or office reduce the amount of clothes, paper, ornaments, or linen!If you don’t use it, don’t want it, don’t need it or don’t love it, donate, box, or dispose of it. If you attempt to organise without downsizing, it will quickly return to a disorganised state!!
  • Start from large to small, one room at a time
  • Give yourself an incentive, a birthday or Christmas treat or a party. Set a period of time to complete the job.
  • Don’t see the task as stressful. Look at it as a way of finding inner peace and reducing anxiety.

If we knew that we could go to a therapist and were guaranteed to be cured of past sorrows in our lives and reduce feelings of regret, wouldn’t we subscribe and feel elated that there was a cure? Decluttering, in a subtle way, eliminates negative cognitive emotions associated with things which give us pain and regret.Not having to face aspects of the past and be reminded of people or events which ‘don’t spark joy ‘is healing. In the words of Leonardo Da Vinci, ‘A cluttered life is a cluttered mind, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication’.

Decluttering, and redesigning spaces leads to an intrinsic happiness and harmony for all income groups in a variety of circumstances.With children, without children, moving house, helping parents pack up for retirement, downsizing or selling houses are all situations which require consideration and assistance. The bottom line is more about not about throwing things away, but more about what to keep.


  • Bernadette Malouf and Julie Copson are organising consultants in the decluttering and redesign business in Perth. Their backgrounds in art and design and real estate have allowed them to offer a variety of services which started because they saw a need in the marketplace to help people. www.aclutterlesslife.com.au
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