I’m not very good at New Year’s resolutions. When I was younger, we had to come up with a New Year’s resolution at school, and I’d just never stick to it (mine was ‘stop biting my nails’ for about four years running). There are lots of things I could improve in 2017 – rejoin the gym (even though it’s boring), drink less (also boring), travel more (absolutely up for this, but for someone who already goes away 4-5 times a year and works full time this is probably not totally achievable). But one thing I can, and should, and will commit to, is living a life with less clutter. And, fortunately, there’s someone who can help me do this the Danish way to help me in my pursuit of hygge.
Lena Bentsen is a Danish life designer, and an expert in the art of decluttering. Now, as someone who doesn’t mind cleaning but hates tidying, this immediately made my ears prick up. Lena believes that reducing clutter is the secret to creating space for hygge in your life, and of course, as a hygge fanatic, this is something I need to know all about. And with January just days away, I thought I should get started on my resolution a little early (ever the maverick), so I asked Lena a few questions to help me get my life in order next year.
There are so many things which appeal to me about the Danish lifestyle, but the avoidance of hoarding ‘stuff’ is something from which a lot of us could learn. I’m guilty of not throwing things away ‘just in case’ (just in case I ever happen to drop two dress sizes again, sure), and I think a lot of us can relate to this. This doesn’t mean having no ‘stuff’ at all – I’m a big fan of keeping objects with sentimental value or with memories attached, but I think we could all point to a dozen objects in the immediate vicinity which we don’t want or need. I was intrigued when I first heard about Marie Kondo’s decluttering philosophy (essentially, get rid of anything which doesn’t ‘spark joy’), but the idea of sorting everything in a category (books, clothing, homeware etc.) in one big go seemed daunting. So I wanted to know what Lena would recommend as a decluttering Dane.
You have to create space for hygge by cleaning up and decorating with care. You can never hide clutter behind Danish hygge.
Hygge in the home
“To hygge with friends is always done in a very casual way. In Denmark, friends meet in private homes. It is very seldom that dinner is shared at a restaurant. That’s why taking care of our homes is important to us. Our homes are an extension of ourselves. It deserves respect from both hosts and guests. Hygge claims mutual respect, to be a good host, and to be a good guest. Everybody must feel good.”
I like this – the idea of being a good host and a good guest. Obviously, taking care of your home is part of being a good host. This doesn’t mean ensuring every surface is spotless or every book is back on the shelf before your guests arrive, but it does mean ensuring your home reaches a certain standard of cleanliness and tidiness. And being a good guest means respecting that environment – don’t go messing up displays or leaving a trail of destruction in your wake.
“The dining table is the centre for Danish hygge. We spend hours and hours around this very important piece of furniture, therefore the food and the table settings are the kick-starters of the hygge mood.” This is a great place to start – if an entire room feels overwhelming, start with the parts most important for hygge – clear the dining table to enable more enjoyable entertaining, or tidy away all the half-used bottles around the bath for a more relaxing soak, or declutter your bedside table for a more serene bedtime routine.
Top tips for decluttering
Practical ways to get more order into my life are always welcome, and Lena kindly put together a selection of tips to help me (and you) make a start. If you want to make 2017 your most organised yet, here’s what Lena has to say:
- Your home is a picture of you. You have invited every single item into your life. Get rid of what doesn’t suit your picture of your ideal life.
- Everything in your surroundings must support you in a positive way, either by function or by ‘heart value’. The rest, you must let go.
- Have a chat with your things. Ask them, “How do you support me?”
- Everything has an expiry date. When something is no longer being used or loved, for whatever reason, you are no longer beneficial to one another.
- All of your things must have a permanent address and you must know their place of residence in order to follow them home. Ask, “Where do you live?”
- Close circles. Every task, big or small, runs in circles; there is a start and an end. If you do not finish the job and close the circle 100%, you are creating clutter behind you.
- Limit, limit, limit. Trust me, you will survive with less stuff. Ask, “Can I live without this?”
- When letting go, say, “Goodbye and thank you for the time we spent together.”
I must say, although the idea of ‘talking’ to your possessions feels unconventional at first, it makes a lot of sense to me. Sometimes I don’t like to throw things away just because I’ve owned them for years and I feel too guilty to get rid of them, but we can’t live like that forever. A question I personally ask my items is “Would you do more good in a different home?”, and if the answer is yes, I can let them go, often to charity so that I know I’m giving them a second life and doing some good. I also really like Lena’s idea that the relationship between us and what we own is reciprocal – if something is just sitting in your wardrobe or on a shelf gathering dust, it’s not serving its purpose, so it’s better to part ways and free it from being just another ‘thing’ in your life.
Putting it into action
I’m not quite Channel-5-documentary-level bad, but I definitely have more possessions than I use or need. It’s so easy to tell myself I don’t have time to declutter or to make it next weekend’s task, but the longer I put it off, the more I’m hampering my ability to hygge the way I want to. I have a clear vision of the environment I want to live in, and having too much stuff is putting a clear barrier between me and optimal hygge. I decided to put some of Lena’s advice into practice myself to see if I could help move towards my hygge vision.
The most pertinent piece of advice for me is ensuring everything you own has a permanent address. I am terrible for creating piles of things in convenient places (the floor next to my bed is always home to books, magazines, notebooks and headphones), so I started with my own bedside table. This seemed like a manageable place to start, and there’s such a weird combination of items that it forced me to think realistically about where everything should belong. I managed to move some things into my medicine drawer, some things into the bathroom, some things into my jewellery box and the rest was thrown away.
I also really like Lena’s use of the term ‘heart value’. I love collecting memories, and used to have ticket stubs, stickers, cards and maps everywhere as mementos of happy times. Something that really helped me was buying a scrapbook to give them a dedicated home. Now if I have something I want to keep, it goes in the scrapbook rather than in one of 15 stashes. It’s totally fine to have a way to hold onto these tangible memories – this is just a painless move from chaotic chaos to organised chaos, and you don’t have to get rid of any of these sentimental reminders. Even the neat-freak Monica from Friends has a messy closet – I just have a messy book. It’s a great compromise for those of us not ready or willing to go full-on showroom.
Goodbye Clutter, Hello Freedom
If you’re interested in decluttering the Danish way, you should check out Lena’s book, Goodbye Clutter, Hello Freedom (if you’re eyeballing your heaving bookshelves, you’ll be pleased to hear it’s available as an ebook!).
“My raving fans from public speeches demanded this book. I have received hundreds of moving letters from my readers, in which they thank me for having changed their lives by giving them a completely different angle of decluttering. I’m so grateful for being allowed to change people’s lives by decluttering the Danish way.”
Are you making any New Year’s resolutions to help you embrace hygge? Let me know!