Battling sentiment to declutter home

Sherri Gardner HowellBlount, Farragut, Kitchen Table Talk, West Knox

As is often the case, the whole thing started with one of my grandsons. King, who is 5 years old and lives in Franklin, was coming to visit Gigi and Granddaddy for a few days. We were planning all our adventures when King offered the following assessment: “We will need to clean off the table so we can build the train tracks. You know, Gigi, your house is really small.”


Uhm, no, actually, our house is a good-size house and, in truth, larger by a little than his. King was insistent, and I finally just agreed.

“Why do you think Gigi’s house is small?” I asked him.

“Every room is full,” he said. “It’s small.”

Dadgum children. He sure had me on that one…

We somehow managed in my “small” house to have more than enough room for everything we wanted to do and the “full” rooms were certainly able to make space for the avalanche of toys he pulled from the playroom, bedroom and his backpack.

But, as I was grieving his leaving because no matter how long he stays, it is never long enough, I looked around, trying to see my home through the eyes of a child. What I saw was filled-to-the-brim bookshelves, pantries, cabinets, end tables, coffee tables and shelves. What I saw was a desk struggling under an avalanche of files, books and papers that needed to be in files. What I saw was knick-knacks gathering dust.

And too much furniture – end tables, coffee tables, nightstands, too many chairs in rooms that don’t need them, and bookshelves filled with DVDs no one watches anymore and CDs no one listens to.

My house needs a serious cleanse. And, I think, I may just be in the mood to do it.

Decluttering isn’t easy for me. Of the three main reasons for keeping too much “stuff,” 75 percent of mine fall into the first – and I think hardest to break – category: Sentiment.

Experts who tell you how to declutter say that most people keep stuff and have a hard time getting rid of stuff for one of three main reasons:

  • Sentiment – when the items remind you of a person, a special place, a happy time or was a gift from someone you care about.
  • Aesthetics – the beauty of the object, how well it goes with the wallpaper or tablecloth or how “interesting” it is, i.e., “people are always commenting on it.”
  • Utility – the hate of waste and being convinced that the item “might come in handy” someday.

Maybe I better up my percentage to 90 percent in the first category. Everything in my house seems to have a story, especially since my mom was such a prolific gift-giver. Somewhere in the crowded china cabinet is a decanter filled with broken glass. The glass is the remnants of a glass pitcher that was the last Christmas present my mother gave me. It was broken by a soccer ball, but I gathered up the shattered pieces and kept them.

Yes, I think this is going to be hard. But I also think it is time. I will spend this week studying techniques, for there are several schools of thought on how to go about decluttering. Next week, I will start.

I’m thinking I will start with my husband’s stuff.

Sherri Gardner Howell has been writing about family life for newspapers and magazines since 1987. She lives in West Knoxville, is married to Neville Howell and has two sons and three grandsons.

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