Retail therapy is a phrase so commonly used these days — Celebrating? Let’s go shopping. Feeling low? Let’s go shopping! Shopping is distracting and fun. The window displays draw you in like magnets. The promise of a good mood at the end of the day is why it’s known as therapy.

I have now come to realise that this isn’t ‘therapy’ but quite the opposite if the things you buy culminate into clutter and interfere with the process of living. You have invested in them, you have to take care of them, make space for them. You feel bad when something is lost or broken. All this takes up time and energy.

Seneca, the Roman philosopher who died in AD 65, said, “It is not the man who has too little, but the man who craves more, that is poor.” I wonder what he would say if he lived in these times of crazy consumerism. A clutter-free life is difficult to achieve but it’s a worthy goal, as it frees up physical and mental space.

Let’s tackle clutter at home first — yours before your partner’s! You can break things down into essential, decorative and sentimental things. Take up one room at a time or, if you are overwhelmed, like I was when I first took up the project, narrow it down to a small space, even one shelf or drawer.

Once you get the discipline of it, it is so liberating and such fun I call it anti-retail therapy!

In the space you decide to tackle, ask yourself of each item — ‘Do I love you’ or ‘Do I use you’ or ‘Will I remember you in the near future’? If the answer is yes, keep it; else boot it out. There are exceptions, of course, like your graduation certificate, but you get the general idea.

Clutter collects in many other ways. We get gifts from well-meaning people, some of which we will never use but feel bad to throw away. These not only occupy space, they give a different type of emotional headache. Be practical, send the giver a thank you note, but if you don’t like it, don’t feel guilty to pass it on.

Another form of clutter is the stuff we are nostalgic about — a ticket stub from a concert, a shot glass from your first all-girls trip, photographs, travel brochures, audio tapes. Create a display corner for what you really like, digitise what you can, keep one box of memories if you must, and throw out the rest.

As for that fancy tea set that is never used because it may break if taken out, enjoy it without fear. If something gets chipped or lost, promise yourself you won’t feel bad for days. Else, sell it online and donate the proceeds to a cause you support.

Project Clutter is not a one-time effort but a state of mind. As for shopping — certainly don’t miss out on the fun of checking out the latest goodies in your favourite shops. Just be prudent about what you invite into the sacred space of home.

Shvetha Jaishankar was once a top-notch model; has an MBA from ISB, Hyderabad; and is a traveller, entrepreneur, experimenter and connoisseur of the fine things in life. Mail her at shvethaj@gmail.com