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From Feng Shui to energy clearing, Marie Kondo to The Home Edit, the power of your environment is being promoted, packaged, and shipped to us on TV, in magazines and on our social feeds. Here in the UK, we have our own Mrs. Hinch and Stacy Solomon, exulting the importance of spotless homes, perfectly organised and only a tap away from tidy. And as I write this, it is spring, with shops full of decluttering solutions, plastic containers in every conceivable shape, size and colour and spring-cleaning products a plenty! No dust bunny, hoarder or minimalist is safe. AND I’M ALL IN!

“A house may look perfect, but a home feels loved.”

I absolutely LOVE spring cleaning, the thought of decluttering fills me with joy and I consume all the latest how to tidy-edit-fold-sort hacks out there! I pour over my Instagram and Pinterest feeds filled with beautiful white coastal inspired homes: living rooms that no child has touched with sticky fingers, bedrooms no dog has rolled around in and office spaces that feel like an oasis of calm and creativity. Now whilst these picture-perfect homes may exist for the duration of the photoshoot (just like my house stays clean for all of 5 minutes before my children come through the door), the pictures always have a distinct lack of life, people, and presence. A house may look perfect, but a home feels loved.

I remember watching a documentary series once about IKEA, and the design of their catalogue was at the heart of one episode. A forward-thinking art director wanted to place people on the front cover, it had never been done before. The company that makes products for the everyday person, hadn’t yet put their consumers front and centre of their biggest marketing tool. Even today, with staging homes being ‘the done thing’ to sell a property, the pictures are devoid of humans. The fantasy of the perfect home is seemingly a marketing dream – you place yourself into the picture, you imagine yourself in that stylised space and visualise yourself in clutter free heaven.

I own this amazing coffee table book a perfectly kept house is the sign of a misspent life and I love that title (and it’s nonchalant hand-drawn lower case font). It sums up my approach to keeping house. There has to be a balance between a comfortable and clean home and one that we spend all our time, energy and resources on. And what is comfortable and clean to one person is different to the next. The impact of a neat and clean home is good for our wellbeing - but it is a double edged sword. I will be honest with you, I struggle and oscillate between perfectly styled and authentically lived-in. I am a very visual person, and I love decluttered, clean, and organised spaces. There is a palpable peace of mind and calm that comes with a well-kept and ordered space. The saying of a cluttered space equals a cluttered mind rings true and I know the frustrations (and rising panic) of walking into my office and wanting to immediately turn around and shut the door on the piles of paper, books, used dishes and unfolded laundry that have crept in as if by stealth!

But I also am a realist. I don’t want to spend every waking hour cleaning, decorating, or plumping cushions. I have had to let go of some of the cleaning ‘rituals’ handed down to me by my mother and release the weight of expectations I heap on myself as I flick through the latest interior design magazine or IKEA catalogue. A balance must be struck, and for the benefit of my wellbeing and sanity (and everyone else’s I live with) I am learning to embrace the ebb and flow of keeping a home. And so, I have put below a few of my own cleaning and decluttering hacks that help me maintain the balance between calm and chaos, lived-in and staged or “that’ll do” and Insta-worthy.

Lower Your Expectations

…nope, lower than that, and maybe even a little lower! Think about whose standards you are adhering to? Where have these come from and why are they so important to you? Keeping your home free of clutter and clean is one thing, spending your time and money keeping up with the Joneses is something else. I love the song Side by UK band Travis, the lyrics are so true: “But the grass is always greener on the other side, The neighbour's got a new car that you wanna drive”. So, I am giving you permission to take the pressure off and know that good enough for you, is good enough.

Stop Comparing

“Comparison is the thief of joy”. And not only joy, but as I’ve said, our time and energy, along with peace of mind, contentment, appreciation, and memories. Do you really want to forego these for a pristine, newer, more sparkly home? Rethink what home means to you personally, not what you see in magazines or online, or even next door. This is your space; your haven and you can choose how you want it to look for you and the people you live with. Additionally, you can declutter your thoughts about your home - do not hold onto old beliefs about perfection if they do not serve you or cause you more stress.

Reduce, Reduce, Reduce

The quickest way to a neat and clean home is simply to own less stuff. Easier said than done, I know. But if we buy less, we not only bring less into our homes, we reduce the impact our spending has on our time, energy and the environment. Why buy more nick-nacks that can become dust catchers or equipment that needs maintaining, to then buy more cleaning products to clean those nick-nacks and equipment, to then throw them out into landfill in a year’s time when they are unfashionable or broken. Become intentional with what you own. And on this point, remember, you own your possessions, they do not own you.

Stop Moving Around

I don’t mean moving house, but moving piles of clutter from one space to another. If you start to think – “I need a colour co-ordinated storage system for that” or “if I had another bookcase, I’d be able to see my office floor” or “my house just isn’t big enough!” then it’s time to stop moving your piles of stuff around and finding new homes for things you simple don’t need. Decluttering is not finding space for stuff; it’s removing it from your home. See the point above and reduce what you own and bring into your home in the first place.

One Room at a Time

I can have five rooms in chaos, and one perfectly tidy, and that’s OK. I don’t need to have my whole house perfectly kept – some rooms get filled up with toys, books, and belongings quicker than others. And here I do offer my mother’s advice – keep your bathroom clean, as that’s the room even strangers use and have time to look around at, plus it is usually smaller and easier to maintain. And if you only have one room – keep a drawer or cupboard neat – it will inspire you to do them same in other areas.

Spend Your Time Wisely

Stop thinking of time as your enemy – working “against the clock”, “running out of time” or “time waits for no-one”. Choose how you divide your time each week between chores and fun times. Again, you are in charge and get to decide how you want to spend your time. If the sun is shining and it’s been a busy week, I will always choose the beach or family time over the washing. I know the pile of dirty laundry can wait, and I choose to use my time to serve me, my family and our wellbeing. And the laundry, it will still be there when I get home, it can wait.

Get Help

If things are getting on top of you, literally, reach out and ask for help. Ask a friend or family member (preferably a non-judgemental person you trust), to help you organise your space. Look into recycling companies that collect unwanted, preloved items for free. Use online apps to sell goods or clothing. Pay for a cleaner or a coach – even if only once, to help you get started.

Be Kind

Show yourself the kindness you would to someone you love. Remember that a home is a place that is lived in, has collections of things and is a backdrop for our lives, not a backdrop for a photoshoot. Our desire for perfection needs to be tempered with the fact that we a real people, with messy, unpredictable lives – and that is the profound beauty of being human.

What are your thoughts on your own approach to your environment, is it something that you need struggle with, do you have any go to hacks? I’d love to know in the comments below, or on my social feeds - @iamsarahalexcarter Let me know what resonates with you when you think about wellbeing and the letter E. Share this with others who you know could benefit from freeing up some space in their world – both mentally and physically. You can also click to subscribe and join me on this journey from A to Z and be the first to receive updates.

Let's work, rest & play well this year!

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