Call me eccentric (please!) but if there’s one thing I enjoy, it’s a really telling metaphor. As I have mentioned before, the Greeks used the same word for pruning, purging, and purification: katharsis. While all three have a bearing on decluttering, I think pruning makes the best metaphor.


You have to have the courage to make a cut – a permanent cut. You have to decide where to cut, because cutting too much off can be just as bad as cutting too little. Pruning clears away the deadwood. It strengthens what remains, and it is used both to move the plant toward the desired shape and to increase its fruitfulness. Fruit does not grow on deadwood. Productivity does not flow from a cluttered life.

But it’s not just about doing what’s best for you in the long run. It pays off in the short term as well. It really is “a disproportionate boost to happiness” to clear out the clutter from your life – even just a little patch at a time.

Hollósy, Simon - Laughing Girl (1883)

While you have to clear your own clutter to feel the happiness for yourself, it sometimes helps to share your progress with others – to encourage them, and to remind yourself of how far you’ve come, when all you can see is the clutter that’s still left. So here’s a chance for you to share what deadwood you’ve cut out of your life lately. I haven’t counted plain old rubbish, mostly because I’m too lazy to actually count it.

The deadwood I pruned in April included:
one formerly non-stick frying pan
one book about walking
one French grammar book
a jigsaw puzzle
a ragged old cloth I used to carry as a child
lots of old wrapping paper
and several cookbooks.

Feel free to add your own lists in the comments!

Feeling the Urge to Purge

Funny people, the ancient Greeks: at least four words for love (storge, philia, eros & agapē), but they make one word serve for cleansing, purging, pruning and emotional release.

It makes sense, though, when you think about it. The word ‘love’ is made to mean far too many things for people to be really certain of what anyone means when they use it; and the various meanings of katharsis do fit together with a certain neatness.

Katharsis (or catharsis as we spell it in English, presumably a thin attempt at covering up the theft) is generally agreed to be a pleasurable feeling. This is why we enjoy reading or watching stories which involve unenjoyable elements. Our emotions are taken out for a brisk airing and returned to their proper places with the warm glow of exercise. This is, incidentally, why we cry when we’re really happy: all the emotion needs to be purged, and tears is how we do it.

But it’s the cleansing/purging aspect of katharsis which I particularly want to look at. Because cleansing and purging are themselves cathartic. This is not to say that washing dishes comes with an automatic glow of satisfaction (if only!) but there is a certain pleasure to be had in pruning the unnecessary elements from one’s life, purging the unwanted stuff, and cleansing what remains. It’s refreshing.

Le faccende di casa by Adriano Cecioni 1869

I spent a while this afternoon cleaning and cleaning out the bathroom – with particular reference to the cupboards. A variety of items left the room for good, and what was left was vigorously reorganized. And I felt good. Unfortunately this took the form of making the Caped Gooseberry come and admire the results. (Patience: a highly underrated quality in a spouse.)

A word to the wise: don’t flush random medications down the loo. Sewage is generally treated before it’s released into the wild, but as far as I know they don’t have special filters for distilling medicaments from the surging tide. Drop them off at the nearest pharmacy/chemist instead.

But don’t worry. As far as I know the mutant-druggie-sewer-alligator is just an urban myth.

Albino Alligator mississippiensis