The Sunday Magazine

Why you should stop purging your home of its stuff and its stories

Emelia Symington Fedy makes the case for holding on tight to the objects that shaped you, even if they create a big fat mess.
This cluttered garage was one of the entries in a contest called "Make a home for your car", held in Surrey, B.C. (City of Surrey)

In a world bent on simplicity and the great un-cluttering, Emelia Symington Fedy makes the case for holding on tight to the objects that shaped you, even if they create a great big fat mess.

"I never got around to reading the best seller a few years ago — The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — because I have young kids and I don't have time to read. But I have friends who keep telling me about it in great detail, so I think I've got the gist. Sift through everything in your house. If you hold it in the palm of your hand and look at it, and it doesn't bring you joy — throw it out. That goes for paper, shoes, cards, clothes, books, art. Look at every single thing in your entire house and if the object doesn't bring you joy, dump it. Your head will be cleaner. Lighter. So will your life.

The Life-Changing Magic Of Tidying Up also says:

Elastic bands — gone. How will I close up my half-eaten bag of chips?

Knick-knacks —  out. But what about my kids' tiny helmet collection?

Birthday cards —  shred. How will I remember who loves me?

Old scraps of fabric — throw 'em out. Couldn't they just be turned into a cool piece of art to hang over my mantle? 

I mean, where does this woman find her time? And even if I could magically produce the extra hours in a day, I wouldn't want to spend them like she does. There is something to life —  real life —  that's unbelievably, undeniably messy. I'm not a hoarder. I actually love to vacuum, and when my husband and I get around to organizing our cupboards, I can't deny the feeling of spaciousness. Of course. 
Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo's book provides a step-by-step guide to decluttering and organizing your home. (Ten Speed Press)

But it's a fine balance. So I'm going to write a book called The Magical Art of Being A Mess. And in it, I teach you how to hold on tight to everything that's old and stained and imperfect because it's yours.

Keepsakes —  keep them. Hang on to all the cards your first true love wrote to you before he left, to remember how pure you were. How you really thought it was really going to work this time. Remember? That belief you had in love? Hold on tight to that. These are thoughts he wrote about you before you even knew yourself yet. This is good medicine.

Your baby's first sweater? Never let it go. If possible, don't even wash it. It's coming out at his wedding.

Your grandmother's old table — the one she sanded by hand, by herself — that's sacred too. I don't care if it stays in storage for 40 years. You keep it. Because one day, you will pull it out and you will look at the scratches on the top that you made with a fork when you were three years old and remember how she cracked your knuckles, and she gave you tea and cookies and taught you not to hold a grudge.

And the loom you'll never learn to use? I don't care how many houses you haul it around to. It was hers. Mum never used it either, but it represents possibility and the unfinished and it's your job to carry that on your back for her. And her ashes — they go right above the bed, in hopes that she visits you more often.

These aren't memories. They're remembrances. They are where you came from and who you used to be and what has changed forever. So much holy history. So many stories. So much strength. Let your life pile high. Keep the tradition of being too busy living alive. If there's one thing I'm learning about being a mom, it's that the stress of trying to keep on top of everything does more damage than just letting everything go.

An older friend of mine — her kids are all grown up now — said to me once, "They're adults so much longer than they're kids. Does it matter? Does it really matter if you can't see your floor?" So I find myself lying in bed, one kid on top of me, the other one under the covers in a self-made fort. And it's true, we can't see the floor. For toys, blankets, old milk bottles and of course, socks. But I know it's the chaos that lets me just give up and be. With them. Right now. 

I don't have 15 minutes to sweep, let alone the 47 days it would take to purge my home of all its stuff and stories. I've got better things to do with my time."

Find out more about Emelia here.

This partial transcript has been edited and condensed. Click 'Listen' above to hear Emelia Symington Fedy's full essay.