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A reluctant declutterer: ‘I am basking in a novel sense of clarity when I sit down’

Áine Ryan is a reluctant declutterer; but after disposing of bagfuls of books, she is once more basking ‘in a novel sense of clarity’ in her office. Now for the rest of the house

For more than two decades, I’ve been haunted by the sight of my youngest daughter’s Barbies being squashed into a bin lorry. We were moving house once again, after my marriage ended and, in a mad moment, I decided Saoirse had outgrown her army of well-endowed dolls; if you’ve watched the movie, then you’ll know that this also included a small battalion of henpecked Kens.

How shortsighted I was. In my uncharacteristic bid to declutter I deprived the two mini munchkins, my granddaughters Ada (4) and Ellen (2) – who have started the next generation of our family – of hours of pleasure when they visit Gaggy Áine here in Westport.

You could argue that my system of cleaning out the corners and cubicles of my life has little rhyme or reason.

Thus, when Bébhinn, my middle daughter, recently asked during a phone call what was I up to for the day and I replied: “I’m decluttering my office”, she nearly choked laughing.


“Sure you have been doing that for the last 20 years.”

She was right, of course, and little did she know that over the following weeks, spurred on by her sarcasm, I finally did the deed. Not halfheartedly, like the foray five years ago when I pulled my green bin round to the front door and dumped 30 years of Phoenix magazines. Although, that still rankles.

On this occasion, I approached the operation methodically, and decided to divest myself of any book I would not read again or need to refer to for a second time.

It included my entire collection of Anne Cleeves’ Shetland series, for example. Along with an impressive array of thrillers, I brought them in bagful after bagful to a welcoming charity shop.

Chaos still prevailed, however. I still needed to purchase a new set of bookshelves. That is how bad it was. However, the sense of relief now that I have categorised my little library is palpable. I am basking in a novel sense of clarity when I sit down at my desk these days.

Experts that one in 50 people suffer from severe hoarding issues. They say it directly relates to anxiety. Well, I can attest to that affliction.

Of course, my damascene epiphany in my office has yet to be replicated throughout the house. Truth be told, an archaeologist could still find evidence of the 1970s in my wardrobe: ah sure you can’t beat the scent of patchouli on cheesecloth and elephant flares.

To put things in perspective, a Queen Anne chair in my sittingroom once lived with my sepia-tinged great-grandparents on the Foyle Road in Derry. That was before it moved to my grandparents on the Point Road in Dundalk, then on to Tullamore where my father taught for a time, before being transported up to Dublin when we moved there in 1968.

Ironically, when our childhood family home in Lucan was being cleared out in 2021 after it was sold, who couldn’t bear to let go of some of the furniture my late mother lovingly restored? A little bit of therapy, perhaps, before I tackle the next room?

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