Chinese New Year is upon us so it is time for a new beginning. Becky Pugh is throwing out the old and making way for the new all thanks to the Year of the Rooster!
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Chinese New Year falls on Tuesday. This means party time across Asia. Chinese children the world over will receive perky red envelopes of “lucky” cash. Lanterns will festoon the streets of China Town in London. Fireworks will be set off around the globe to usher in The Year of the Monkey. For me, though, it means just one thing: that it’s time to tidy up.
Until recently, I’d never thought much about Chinese New Year. Then I heard about a particular one of the traditions associated with it and was hooked. I learned that in order to remove negative energy and make way for good fortune, it is customary to give your house a thorough cleanse two days before Chinese New Year’s Eve. This is on the basis of a Chinese proverb that says:
“If the old doesn’t go, the new won’t come.”
I love a new beginning, and I subscribe to the idea of a tidy house equaling a tidy mind. So I resolved to get all my guff – and the guff belonging to my husband and two small children – and rid our home of the bits that I neither wanted nor needed any longer. Salivating at the thought of the good fortune it might bring my family, I pledged to do it in time for Chinese New Year.
I enlisted the help of a book – dramatically entitled 'The Life Changing Magic of Tidying'- about which I’d read acres in the press over the Christmas holidays. Written by Marie Kondo, an eccentric cleaning consultant from Japan, ‘The Life Changing Magic of Tidying’ is a New York Times bestseller that has revolutionised chaotic homes throughout the world. There is now a three-month waiting list for Kondo’s services, and her second book,'Spark Joy: An Illustrated Guide to the Japanese Art of Tidying', is flying off the shelves.
Kondo’s premise – and the one I used in my Chinese New Year decluttering mission – is that if you really, truly tidy up once, you won’t ever have to again.
She says you must keep only those items that “spark joy”. Of every possession, you must ask yourself: “Does this bra/piece of Lego/faulty sippy cup/child’s drawing spark joy?” If the answer is no, you throw the item away or give it to charity. If the answer is yes, you keep it and make sure that you give it an appropriate home in your house. Kondo insists that you do not tidy or declutter by room – as most people tend to – but by category. Following her method to the letter, I attacked my clothes first, then those of my husband and children. I gathered every sartorial item I could find and put them all on my bed. It took me surprisingly little time to decide the fate of each one (my husband deliberated somewhat more).
After the family’s clothes, I moved on to the kitchen and quickly realised how few cracked vases, novelty nutcrackers and leaky jugs spark joy – even if they were beloved presents in the first place.
Next I did toys. We parents have to accept a fair amount of toy clutter in our lives, right? But I took the executive decision to ditch those things that were actually broken or shamefully age inappropriate. If a toy needed new batteries, I put them in – because, having done the kitchen, I now knew the whereabouts of enough batteries to power my whole neighbourhood.
Finally, I did books (the hardest category to dispense with), papers (the most tedious category to go through) and linen (I was stunned by how many cotbed sheets I’d been harbouring despite no longer owning a cotbed).
I filled 20 bags with rubbish and took a further 10 to a selection of charity shops. I returned to a friend a hat in a giant box that I’d borrowed three years ago. I uncovered bits of my son’s Playmobil pirate ship that we thought had sunk without trace. Within two days, I felt lighter and brighter and my house looked amazing.
My husband and children thought I was mad. Then they protested that I was chucking too much away. Now they are thrilled that they can find the things they love and are unfettered by those they don’t. (Plus, my boys love the idea that the toys they no longer play with are giving pleasure to other kids.)
Before you settle down to a celebratory feast of dumplings and crispy duck, I urge you to give Marie Kondo’s decluttering process a go – bonkers though she may sound, her manual is packed with pearls of wisdom. You will be stunned by the effect on your family, and goodness knows what great fortune it will release upon you this lunar year.
Besides, who are any of us to argue with an ancient Chinese proverb?