Anne Marr, 68, is a registered hairdresser, whose hobbies include writing, gardening, caring for wild life and learning. She’s also studied health, journalism and pain management.

When you’re living in a small stone cottage, ideal for my husband and I to retire to, but full of stuff, it’s a good time to declutter, right? That seems to be all the rage now, doesn’t it? The minimalistic look is in, or so it seems.

It was hard.

When it came to the books it was very difficult; so many held memories. One in particular came to mind the day my daughter called in and was helping me to decide what I should keep and what should go. “Oh you can’t throw your diaries out,” she said.

Many years ago we were struggling through the teenage years – you know the years when they hate you, you can’t possibly understand how they feel and so on. Well, one day when daughter threw this sentence at me angrily, I left the room and headed for my very large book shelf. I’ve always kept a diary, since I was about 12. Yes, there it was; my diary when I was 16. It held all the things I felt at the time and what was happening most days. I took this diary in and gave it to her, saying, “Take note of the date and year won’t you. This is what I wrote when I was your age.” Quite some time later, my daughter came out of her room, gave me a hug, and said, “Oh you do understand how I feel don’t you.” Our communication was open again. Getting rid of everything from your past is not always a good idea and that was proved to me. I now declutter selectively.

Grandmother 's Glory Box Seat

Someone’s things tell us who they are keep us connected to them. I remember emptying my grandmother’s home, my husband’s mother’s home and going through my father’s boxes of writing. Who knew he wrote so much, but then he was a teacher. I have kept some of his special books, many of his writings and dozens of recipes he wrote (he loved to cook) in his own special folder (more on that later).

SideboardI have kept my Grandmother’s sideboard and glory box. It’s a seat, very solid wood and can sit two people. The wall above the sideboard holds photos of grandparents, great-grandparents and family. The sideboard and glory box seat was originally handed down from my great-grandmother. My grandmother then handed it down to me. Both are well over 100 years old. In the glory box I keep cherished family items that hold special memories right back to my grandparents’ days. I’m selective and have added notes to each item so future generations won’t wonder, “Who did this belong to, or what was it?”

For the books I’ll keep, there is a book shelf that holds the diaries and photo albums. My grandson loved going through these when he was young. When each of my children turned 21 I gave them “This is your life albums” with all the photos taken of them since birth. When my son first left home, he considered his album his most prized possession. It reminded him of where he came from and all the family, even if we were many miles apart.

I am still working on decluttering and it may take some time now all the family have moved back home. Since we moved in to our small retirement cottage, my mother has moved in (she was at nursing home stage and Dad couldn’t manage), my son came home from Sydney and moved in, the daughter and grandson moved in, and then my father took sick and also moved in. Our carport was closed in to make another bedroom. The laundry was moved onto the back veranda, trough and all to make yet another bedroom. I was lucky my husband was a licensed electrician and an excellent handy man.

Sorting through all my stuff became a real challenge then. I decided to start a large memory folder with plastic sleeves – one for each family member. I put special cards or things that they may want to keep into the folder. I have one too and once a year I write a summary of the year’s happenings, how we celebrated Christmas and New Year and place it in the folder.

We’ve decluttered a lot, but it’s a comfortable family home and it still has plenty of stuff. Grandmother’s scales are use every week for cooking. As all her recipes are in pounds and ounces that’s very handy. Daughter has got the new scales for her recipes. We still cook on the wood stove every winter and everyone loves it. The kettle is always on and there’s always a big pot of soup. It may not be a minimalistic home, but it’s a happy one.

I just follow my grandmother’s advice, “Everything should have a place and everything should be in its place.” If you declutter too much you lose the character of the home and the family living in it. 

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Related links:

Thank you to my community for helping me in my time of need

21 lessons I learnt from my grandmother

4 tips to preserve your family history