Our guide to a better and clutter-free 2016

  • Team Brunch
  • Updated: Jan 18, 2016 16:06 IST

Human beings are sentimental creatures, so much so that we often extend our emotions to inanimate objects. Like that hoodie from college, now two sizes too tight, lying rolled up in an overstuffed wardrobe. Or that first watch dad gifted, which now lies broken under a pile in the closet. Or those innumerable things that we just seem to collect – vases, toys, mementoes, souvenirs, showpieces – strewn across every inch of space available.

Then of course, there are those remembrances of growing consumerism: old, discarded electronic items that we seem to keep simply for nostalgia’s sake. It is our sentimentality that makes us hoard, hoard and hoard. Until we’re living in absolute clutter and making a mess – not just of our wardrobes and homes, but also of our bodies, minds and lives.

We don’t need to be told that decluttering and tidying can be a therapeutic process. Two years ago, when Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo’s first book, The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up released, it became an international bestseller, selling over two million copies. Her step-by-step KonMari method to simplifying, organising and storing began to be considered revolutionary, and so many people signed up for a direct consultation with her that there was a three-month waiting period. Earlier this month, her second book, Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up, released to much anticipation. It offers a detailed course of sorts in her methodology of getting rid of things that don’t “spark joy”.

Kondo’s idea is simple: it is to surround yourself only by the things you love. She recommends that you focus on the things you want to keep rather than the ones you want to discard. So if a broken toaster reminds you of sweet times from long ago, by all means, keep it. On the other hand, if that pair of expensive branded jeans, which you could never fit into, still makes you cringe about the fortune you spent on it, discard it right away. Kondo writes, “In the end, all that will remain are the things that you really treasure.”

Mumbai-based copywriter Tanya Siqueira however feels that not all of Kondo’s methods work for her. “She has a lot of quirky ideas in her book, like how your bag works hard for you and so you should clean out its contents and give it some rest,” she says. “For me, a bag is just a bag.”

Siqueira has always been an organised person, but she decided to declutter her home further. “Because organising doesn’t equal to less stuff; it just means that you label everything and put it away in drawers and compartments. But you still don’t know what you have, how much of it you have and what you will end up using.” She finds Kondo’s tip about finding a category to declutter, instead of going room by room, useful. “So, some of her tips work for me, some don’t. The key is to find what works for you and stick to it as a continuing process.”

Most of us may have given up on our grand new year resolutions already. But it’s just mid-January and we still have time to make little changes to our homes, our diets and our personal beings. To help you do that, we have accumulated tips from several experts in the following pages, so that when the year rolls into another new one, 12 months from now, we are a few consequential steps closer to decluttering our lives and our persons, and starting afresh.

- Satarupa Paul


Polish up your manners

Maya Daswani who heads a finishing school that covers personality development, grooming, social graces, etiquette and communication skills, lists the differences between the well-behaved and the merely well-dressed.

When it comes to good behaviour, you probably know the basics. They taught you ‘please’, ‘sorry’ and ‘thank you’ in school. You know the order in which to CC your boss, colleague and underling in an email (in decreasing order of designation). You know the rule about checking your phone in the middle of a real-life conversation (don’t do it). You’ve probably also realised that you should stand on the right side in an elevator to allow people to rush past.

So how come some people come across as truly polished while the others look like they’ve been raised by wolves? Etiquette trainer and soft-skills expert Maya Daswani says that good manners are those indiscernible qualities that make others feel at ease, thwart uncomfortable moments and set the better person apart from the ordinary. It’s better for your career too, she says. “Being rude doesn’t get you promoted, but social graces will smooth your way to the top.” Here’s what to keep in mind.

On the phone:

* Stop with the missed calls. The era when talktime was expensive is over. Expecting someone to call you back after seeing a missed call is considered bad form today. And don’t use the excuse, “Oh but you never pick up” to justify it.

* When a call drops mid conversation, be the person to call back regardless of who made the call. Earlier, good manners would indicate that the caller should call back. Today, reconnecting the call indicates that the conversation is important to you.

* One old rule still stands: the caller should end the call.

* Be the one who provides the details. Daswani’s peeve is with callers who don’t identify themselves. Or worse, use their first name and expect you to figure out the rest. Introduce yourself quickly and clearly to ensure a smooth conversation.

* Refinement means not making the other person fumble. So repeat key information like an email address or phone number. Don’t leave it to the other person to ask for information twice. And unless you know the person well, use SMS, not WhatsApp.

At a dinner party:

* One of the best markers of your social upbringing is how you interact with a room full of people at a meal — be it a wedding or a wine dinner. It’s a social situation, so be social. Get acquainted with everyone, don’t just chat with the one person you know.

* Make the new person or the solo diner feel welcome. Involve them in conversations. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking “How about you?” during a discussion.

In general conversation:

* Women, sit with your knees together. Men, stop the hideous practice of manspreading by keeping your knees too wide while seated.

* Be curious, not nosy. It’s time you stopped asking people why they are not married. And never ask why someone is divorced.

* The worst offence is getting graphic. No need to ask a new mother how long she was in labour or whether it was a C-section. Offer congratulations and hope mama and baby are doing fine.

* Remember, it’s not what you say but how you say it that sets you apart. And if you have nothing nice to say, don’t say it.

- Rachel Lopez


Stop wasting time on the web

Hours on Facebook, group SMS, unsolicited forwards, unnecessary WhatsApp groups, anonymous hate – it all ends right now. Funnyman at large, Jose Covaco, shows you how.

* Life does get easier when you regulate your online behaviour. Comic Jose Covaco, also the purveyor of the pragmatic internet usage (have you seen his riotous Vines?), has some worthwhile tips to offer.

* Always read the comments: In an age where news is condensed into 140-characters and click-bait headlines, it’s easy to have only half-baked opinions. Covaco recommends reading the comments thread under every article. “Headlines are mostly sensational. But people’s responses – after filtering the abuse – that’s where the truth is hidden,” he says.

* Review your opinions before airing them.

* A little trolling is fine if it’s civil and witty. “If you’re being abusive and threatening, you need to log out and have a drink.”

* Disable frivolous apps: Covaco still hasn’t figured out Snapchat (has anybody?). “Isn’t it like reality TV, with all the constant updating? Just call each other.” Next in line is disabling shopping apps, to end the barrage of notifications. “Stop them from telling you what you want,” he says.

* Use the internet for good: Twitter and Facebook are popular outlets for armchair activists, says Covaco. It’s when that behaviour turns into real activism that change actually happens. “The internet is helpful for mobilising resources. Recently, there was an explosion in a Mumbai slum, and no news channel had picked it up. It was amazing how users pitched in with information and help,” he says.

* Restrict your time: We know, we know. There’s a new kitten video every minute. But do they have to take over your life? Set alarms for your browsing time and don’t expose young children to smartphones – they’re likely to get addicted. “The fact that there are de-addiction centres coming up in India is frightening. I’m not giving my daughter a smartphone till she’s 22,” says Covaco. “If anyone really wants to de-addict, they should come to my house. My mom will set them straight.”

- Shikha Kumar


Sort out your wardrobe

Of course, stop hoarding. But what should go and what should stay? Celebrity stylists Anisha Jain and Allia Al Rufai do the picking.

Most of us hold on to specific items of clothing – sometimes they’re harder to let go of than exes – in the hope that they’ll one day be in vogue again. Most of us also realistically know that this will never happen. So why? Remember Michael Kors’ two cents on this? “I think women are realising that they don’t need a closet full of clothes. They just need the right clothes.” Anisha Jain (who’s behind Parineeti Chopra’s recent looks) and Allia Al Rufai (she’s styled Deepika Padukone and Anushka Sharma) help you make those stressful dump it/keep it decisions.

* Dump anything you haven’t worn in two years. It’s clear that you’re not going to wear it anytime soon. “If it’s in a decent condition, you don’t need to throw it,” Rufai says. “Give it to pop-up charity sales.”

* Give leggings a kick. You know the trend is gone for good. “If you still want to keep them, wear them to yoga,” says Jain.

* Ditch the bum shorts and crop tops: It’s not the ’90s. Jain recommends switching them for denim shirts and long, caped-cardigans. “This year is all about minimalism. So fall back on the classic pieces, even if it’s a simple pair of jeans,” she says. Rufai says off-the-shoulder tops are back. “Team them with culottes.”

* Buy less: Rufai recommends investing in classic pieces, like jackets. “They’re versatile and help you carry a look from day to night, even if you’re in jeans and a white shirt,” she says.

* Keep the ripped denims: They’re a strong trend for spring/summer with casual T-shirts, fitted shirts and dainty tops, for a hint of grunge-chic.

* But toss these themes: Moustaches, owls and stars on everything? That trend peaked and died. “If you’re bold enough, mixed prints make a statement like none else. Just make sure they border on the subtle,” says Rufai.

* Boys, suit up: Jain’s fervent plea to the male brigade: ditch the hideous cargo shorts and clean up every once in a while. “I can’t stress enough on how good a man looks in a well-fitted suit,” she says. Rufai adds that they should not be afraid of wearing colour. “Beards have been big for a while now, so grooming is important. And there are so many products available now, there’s no excuse for straggly hair.”

- Shikha Kumar


Trim Your Diet

Want to follow healthy eating habits, but find it difficult to do? Two diet and nutrition experts dish out the secrets.

Make small changes over a period of time. Try not to do anything drastic,” is the top advice from Delhi-based diet and nutrition expert Dr Varun Katyal.

Many of us know the feeling. We’ve all tried to follow one diet or the other at some point: a fruit-only diet to lose weight, a two-week diet to detox, or even a month-long diet plan for all-round health. And most of us have failed and gone back to eating a calorie-laden pizza by the third day – mostly to satiate our cravings, and in some part to escape the stress of following a rigid diet.

What we should do instead is trim our diet, one little step at a time, to ensure we don’t end up hoarding unwanted calories in our body. Dr Katyal and Mumbai-based clinical dietician and nutritionist Kanchan Patwardhan suggest the following:

* Change one meal at a time. Start with your dinner – make it lighter.

* Drink a lot of water. No surprises there! Dr Katyal suggests that you fill three one litre bottles of water, label them as 1, 2 and 3, and make sure you’ve finished all three bottles by the end of the day.

* Have a party or a shaadi to attend? Eat a bowl of salad before stepping out of the house, so that you don’t feel hungry and end up gorging on unhealthy snacks at the party.

* Talking of salads, bid adieu to that fatty mayonnaise dressing. Go for a drizzle of lemon juice or a generous splash of hung curd instead. Patwardhan says you can add some oregano and pepper as well to these healthy dressings for a burst of flavour.

* You’ve heard it many times already; we’re going to tell you one more time: Cut down on that sugar! Use natural sweeteners available in the market if you must. Better still, add cinnamon powder or elaichi or jaiphal to milk or chai for a natural sweet taste and grand aromas.

* Live alone and end up ordering in or eating out a lot? Dr Katyal suggests that you go for the sukhi sabzis instead of the gravies, which are more often than not laced with cornflour, cream and butter to make them thicker. Also, memorise this golden rule and repeat after us: grilled, baked and steamed trump deep fried. So chicken tikka over fried chicken, jacket potatoes over French fries, steamed momos over fried ones... you get the drift.

* While making those endless trips to the office dispenser, says Patwardhan, pick up a cup of hot water instead of coffee or tea, add a bag of herbal tea and sip that.

* If you are a night owl, here’s what you can do for those midnight hunger pangs: Add unsweetened cocoa powder to a glass of milk for chocolate cravings, or have some dates and anjeer for sugar cravings. Another quick, easy thing to make, says Dr Katyal, is a wholewheat vegetable sandwich with hung curd as a spread. He swears by this delicious, healthy alternative that is so versatile that it can be used as a dip, a sandwich spread and even as a pizza sauce!

- Satarupa Paul


De-clutter your home

Resolved to clean up your act (and home) this year? De-clutter one room at a time with these easy organising tips.

It’s so difficult to part with things we’ve spent our hard-earned money on, or things which we once loved. Some, we want to keep because of their emotional value. Others, we hope to use in the future. But they take up so much space. They also take away so much peace from our lives. They make us want to escape from home, rather than look forward to coming home at the end of the day.

Two interior designers tell us how to declutter our homes sans stress.

* Where to begin? Overwhelmed by the clutter and don’t know where to begin? Never mind how much the clutter or how many rooms you have to go through, do not begin decluttering a room, or the entire house, at one go, advises interior designer Sapna Aggarwal. “Tackle one drawer or cupboard or desk at a time.” Completing smaller goals will give you a sense of accomplishment and save you from exhaustion.

* Does it work? That mixer with the broken regulator. The iron which doesn’t steam properly. Old cell phones you have been meaning to fix. If it doesn’t work, don’t let it sit in the house gathering dust.

* Keep flat surfaces clear: Flat surfaces are clutter-magnets. Too many things on the bedside table or the centre table in your living room? Keep it minimal, suggests interior designer Shahnaz Mahimtura. For instance, “All the remotes of the room can be kept in a box or a tray… just one big centerpiece makes greater impact compared to several items on the table.”

Here are some things you should consider purging from your home.

* Toys: They can live in baskets or trunks, which are easier for children to pull out and put back, suggests Mahimtura. Still running out of space for toys? Maybe it’s time to donate a few of them.

* Unused electronics: Do you have an electric heater? Or an old laptop or cell phone that you just never got around to getting rid of? Sell them on sites like OLX, which will quote you a decent price too.

* Makeup: Since expired cosmetics can cause skin problems and eye infections, it’s important to replace them before they go south. So if your nail polish is cracking, or your lipstick has a funny smell, or your lip gloss is too thick – it’s time to bid them adieu.

* Medicine: Look through your medicine cabinet and do away with drugs that are past their prime, or those you no longer need.

* Receipts, bills, documents: Wary of misplacing or throwing away important receipts, bills and mails? Invest in a file organizer, says Aggarwal, and designate a specific place to keep it. “A drawer will probably store about 10 files but a file organizer will help fit in a lot more, all in one place.”

- Atisha Jain


Clear your mind

The idea of decluttering can be extended to our minds as well, says Dr Samir Parikh, director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare Ltd. “If your mind is not relaxed enough, is always preoccupied with work, or is too engrossed in social media, then your productivity comes down and even your work-life balance goes for a toss.”

Multitasking, he says, does not mean doing ten different things at the same time. It doesn’t mean you have to check your Facebook while typing out a thousand lines of code and chatting with your wife. It means prioritising multiple tasks throughout the day in such a way that you start one after the other is over. “Correcting your work-life balance is a social form of decluttering, Leave your work at work and go home to home, and don’t let the two mix. That’s the essence of a balanced life.”

- Satarupa Paul

From HT Brunch, January 17, 2016

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