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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 January, 2005, 10:29 GMT
Hooked on junk
By Claire Heald
BBC News

COUNTING THE CLUTTER
Under the stairs
56% of Brits are self-confessed hoarders
Each keeps about 46 unwanted items
49% hang on to items in case they come in handy one day
Source: Cahoot/Cancer Research
The British are hoarding more clutter than ever - 2.5bn worth according to research. Now, a campaign for charity is trying to get self-confessed hoarders to clean up their acts. But where to start?

Britons are squirreling away more possessions than ever before. More than half of us are self-confessed clutter hoarders, each keeping an average of 46 unwanted items.

The trend helps explain the sprouting of industrial-scale storage units around the country. But the majority of Britons still like to keep their junk at home, leaving lofts, sheds and spare rooms heaving.

"I had one lady who had to sleep on the couch," says Rachael Ross, a de-clutter consultant. "She could just about step into her bedroom, but there was so much stuff there was no space to move things off the bed and sleep on it."

Rachael is called in by people to clear up when the junk spreads to every spare corner

"There was one client who had the Christmas tree still up in the living room in May," she says. "Fake, obviously. By that time of year you had forgotten about Christmas - you saw all the glitter and thought 'that's nice'. But no."

For anyone facing a jaded pile of unwanted Christmas gifts, and the mess beyond, she believes New Year is a time to "make a habit, not a resolution" and de-junk. Cancer Research is backing the message, urging people to take their unwanted possessions to charity shops.

There are, says Rachael, five key ways to tackle the tat.

CHANGE HABITS

"For some people it's about when you come in the front door. Normally people will throw their stuff everywhere," she says.

Cupboard before and after a tidy
A place for everything, and everything in its place

"Have a table on the side - if you know your wallet and keys go there, the next day you don't spend 10 minutes running around going 'where are my keys'?"

If it is a garage full of broken equipment "to fix one day" or belongings "that might be worth something", Rachael is surprisingly restrained: "You don't have to throw it all out. "Just pick enough for one shelf in the garage so you can still drive the car in."

15 MINUTES

Roll up your sleeves and go for it
Rachael Ross

"Keep it simple by initially planning to spend 15 minutes a day on de-cluttering. Break a job down into manageable tasks.

"If the house has got into this situation you'll never do it all at once - it's too daunting and depressing. Start with an area that isn't emotional, like a sock drawer, not Christmas presents or the box your grandmother gave you a few years ago.

"That will give you confidence to move on to more emotional areas."

BE RUTHLESS

Plastic Santa pig gift
Don't feel guilty about saying goodbye

"You definitely need to have a brain shift and retrain it - it's a new skill. Clutter piles up because it's not important until it gets out of control or because of something emotional or traumatic."

As for how to lose unwanted Christmas gifts, she says: "A lot of people keep them for guilt reasons. But have it up for a year and then let it go.

"By that point the person will have been over, seen you've put it up, and then forget that they ever gave it to you. Or give it to charity and someone will get great use out of it."

STOP BUYING

George W Bush and Vladimir Putin, wearing traditional Chilean ponchos
Haven't worn it lately? Throw it away

With the added danger of the January sales, one way to get on top of clutter is to stop bringing unneeded items home in the first place, Rachael advises.

"A lot of people buy clothing but never even take off the price tag. They're buying because they get a buzz.

"I have a mantra: 'Don't buy it 'cause it's cheap'. Look at things and say, 'Is it something I need?'"

DON'T GIVE UP

"If it took you eight years to collect things why do you think you're going to get rid of it in one day? Keep on sorting, dumping, tidying, cutback on new clutter and the battle will be won."

Clearing houses, Rachael says she often has to escort bags of rubbish off the premises to make sure they are thrown away.

But there is also an upside which spurs people on: "There's excitement as clients see a section of floor appearing. They see things are working better and the family aren't going around yelling at each other because they can't find school kit."

"Roll up your sleeves and go for it."


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