…18 months later, I am once more only partially employed and finding myself with the time and headspace for writing. As well as for picking up the self-improvement pace, not least because having hit middle age and unexpected health problems in the last couple of years I feel I am running out of time to get somewhere with my life that I’m content to be.

Step one is ‘sort house out’. My issues with all things domestic have stood in my way for too long, have always affected me negatively in multifarious ways, and now need addressing more than ever as downsizing is a key part of my master plan (not least as a measure to make keeping on top of domestic things easier in future).

Sporadic decluttering has happened over the years and the house is better than it’s ever been, but still not ‘normal’ in the sense of somewhere I’d feel comfortable inviting people in without considerable notice (though friends are now OK, which wasn’t the case until early last year).

Possibly the best push so far happened when I used my 45th birthday as an excuse to ask friends to donate an hour of their time to help me with the tasks I found most challenging, which was further evidence that deadlines and accountability are the way to go for me. The idea came from the deepening conviction that I suffer from AD(H)D, and that having someone by my side or looking over my shoulder or depending on my work can help me focus*. Hence being so much more organised / likely to finish things when I am doing work for someone else.

Therefore this year I have started following a page on Facebook called ‘becoming minimalist’ (they don’t even use capital letters in the name, presumably to show how compact they can make life, shame about all the syllables, eh), and enrolled on their 12-week online decluttering course, as I don’t want to keep imposing on friends, and a structured approach by someone who makes a living of this will hopefully be even more effective. The fact that it’s online makes it much less terrifying than having someone come to my house and tell me what to do, it feels introvert-safe and like there’s less danger of counterwill kicking in.

A post published by the page today gave me the impetus to come back to this blog, because it brought up a lot of resistance, some of which may be justified but needs exploring. This is the post, a beautiful image of autumn leaves on the ground with the words ‘Don’t carry what you don’t need in your pockets, in your home, in your heart’**.

Immediately I thought of the little rucksack I take everywhere with me. “but, but, but… what if I might need it later?”. Example: I live in England. It seems sensible to always have an umbrella with me, and I feel smug when people get caught short and I am prepared. However, when I think about it, I very rarely use it. For one thing, I live in the South West, not Manchester – it’s really not all that wet here. For another, these days I cycle everywhere, so don’t spend much time outdoors in a situation that would make an umbrella convenient. On top of that, my winter coat has a perfectly good hood. So perhaps what I should do instead of carrying an umbrella at all times is only have outerwear that is hooded, try to remember to check the weather forecast before going out, and make peace with the possibility of getting wet every now and then.

OK, so now I’ve removed my folding umbrella from my everyday bag. I have hung it on a hook by the front door with another folding umbrella that was there just in case. I have therefore increased the clutter in my house! What to do? And here I am, in typical AD(H)D fashion, getting bogged down in incipient detail instead of focussing on the topic I set for this post – need.

So back to that.

A lot of people commenting on the Facebook post with similar objections to my kneejerk thoughts are parents who carry a lot of stuff that may be needed at some point while being out in the world by their predictably unpredictable offspring. I have a very high-maintenance inner child if no others, so can relate to an extent.

But what defines need? I guess the impact of the thing’s absence. For example, if you’re a city-dweller with a deathly allergy to bee stings, your EpiPen may only be useful once in a blue moon, but if you didn’t have it that day you could die. On the other hand, the roll of dental floss I carry ‘just in case’ (I barely ever floss at home, never mind in the wild)? Now back in the bathroom cabinet where it belongs.

And as a bonus, looking through my ‘essentials’ bag-within-my-bag, I found the long-lost tool that unlocks the front wheel of my bike. Somewhat spooky as just today I had been wringing my hands at having destroyed the front wheel skewer head using a Torx key instead. The proper tool still works. Finding things is one of the most satisfying things about tidying up, and I have just saved whatever it would have cost me to sever the skewer and get a new one!

*see ‘Scattered’ by Gabor Maté. Equally someone being there can be thoroughly distracting, it’s all about context.

**I had to type this out as there didn’t seem to be a text version, bad, ableist webmaster (unless I missed some clever newfangled invisible code in which case clever, clever webmaster).