A few years ago I was invited to stay with a friend in Italy. As she walked me through her small apartment I wondered why I was feeling a bit uncomfortable. It certainly wasn't her personally - she's a lovely lady and very hospitable.

Then I began to take more notice of my environment. Although the house was clean, almost every inch of the place was crowded, most of it with things she rarely used.

I'm not a Feng Shui expert, but I do agree completely with some of its precepts, two of which are:

1. a beautiful, calm and uncluttered environment gives us a sense of peace and wellbeing, quite aside from increased effectiveness and efficiency


2. we lose energy on both a physical and a psychic level if we have broken or damaged things in our environment

In my friend's house I saw:

• Multiple collections of teapots and condiment sets decorating many of the kitchen shelves - not just high shelves but also easy-to-reach ones that you'd expect to hold regularly used kitchen equipment or food items.

• The available working space beside the kitchen sink was no more than a few inches - 'stuff' crowded the rest of the small space.

• Only two of the elements on the stove top could be used without shifting several piles of other utensils. (They were clean, at least!)

• It was a nuisance to use the oven - first you had to clear it of a pile of casserole dishes and other crockery, presumably stored there because there was no more cupboard space.

• The small dining/kitchen table had just enough room for two to sit at. The rest of the table carried a random selection of books, papers and magazines.

• In the bathroom were multiples of all the normal paraphernalia - and it wasn't for anyone else. She lived alone.

• 'Is it possible to borrow your iron?' I asked on Sunday morning. We were about to head out for a relaxed luncheon with friends and I wanted to wear the new white cotton dress I'd just bought. For a moment she looked a bit bothered but then said, 'Hang on, I'll get it.'

The next four minutes were spent pulling out a plethora of seldom-used things from a hard-to-reach cupboard so she could reach a box containing the iron. (I did say 'don't worry' but once she started she was unstoppable.)

What I noticed was a complete lack of logic in placement of commonly used items, and maybe a compulsion to acquire 'stuff'. (We didn't discuss it but the environment indicated this possibility.)

But it was more than clutter - I quickly discovered that many items in the house didn't function properly.

• Some of the cupboard doors were very difficult to shut - when I went to help with something in the kitchen I was warned not to open certain cupboards or we'd never get them shut. Too bad if you want any of the many items tucked away there.

• The washing machine was hidden underneath piles of kitchen clutter and never used. Instead she did most of her laundry by hand and when she had a large amount of linen she used a friend's machine.

• Most of the windows couldn't be opened properly - there were too many things on the window sills.

• It was hot so I turned on my bedroom fan when I went to bed. It ran for fifteen minutes and then started making an excruciatingly loud noise. Result: no ventilation on a very hot night.

• Half the light switches didn't work - or maybe bulbs needed replacing?

• 'Be very careful not to touch that mirror', she said as we crowded past a tall mirror on the wall. 'It will fall down if you do.'

• Even the front door couldn't be fully opened due to things piled up behind it - we slid in sideways.

Result: underneath the kindness and very genuine hospitality she often displayed an aura of frustration and low-level stress, sometimes triggered by seemingly small and unrelated issues.

It's certainly not for anyone to say how much 'stuff' is right for another - we all have different standards and comfort levels. But I do know that my friend would improve the quality of her life and greatly diminish her stress levels if she could clear some of her clutter and also get her appliances and home back into working order.

Is there anything in your life that needs to be decluttered or fixed? Follow the frustration path and you'll have your answers.

And if you'd like tips and a clear process on how to clear your clutter, you'll get all the help you need with the ebook version of 'Getting A Grip On The Paper War'