“Don’t own so much clutter that you will be relieved to see your house burn down.”
American author and farmer Wendell Berry

After 13 years of ownership we have recently sold our home near Bordeaux … with mixed emotions. There is an expression here that the happiest day in your life is when you buy your first French chateau, surpassed only by the day that you sell it. I know well what they mean.

At this stage in our lives we eventually found 15 acres, 8000 square feet of home, 2 additional cottages, several extra outbuildings, assorted staff and various animals and livestock to be somewhat restricting to our changing lifestyle needs. We will look for a smaller home (2-3000 sq. ft.) on a more manageable parcel of land (1-2 acres) just a bit further away from the city of Bordeaux, and closer to the small pretty village of St. Emilion, where most of our friends live. This should also give us the freedom to be able to spend more time with our daughters, grand-daughters and friends in Australia and New Zealand.

Author: Fabien1309 (own work); CC BY-SA 2.0 FR license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Fabien1309 (own work); CC BY-SA 2.0 FR license; via Wikimedia Commons

This “downsizing” has necessitated the need to seriously unclutter, as having previously lived in a house of similar size in Singapore, we have now had 20 years of living in large homes with unlimited storage.

We have already ordered a large rubbish skip, made multiple trips to the local dechetterie (tip/dump) and charity shops to dispose of accumulated memorabilia, keepsakes and souvenirs including old electrical equipment … TVs, DVD players, VHS tape decks, old irons, PCs and other assorted bits that still worked, so the hoarder in me just found another storage spot for them in our voluminous attics. We have also made a number of trips to the local dog refuge with 4 old large kennels and assorted dog paraphernalia, which we kept after our old dogs went on to doggie Valhalla, despite now only having 2 small terriers. I even finally disposed of the vast assortment of chargers that I have accumulated in a box over the last 20 years, a box that I am sure many of my contemporaries can also claim to own.

Author: Speculos (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Speculos (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0, 2.5, 2.0, 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

I admit that we still have a long way to go !!!

It has made me think about the clutter that most managers tend to accumulate during their careers, and the need that they have to regularly clean out their own “house” in the same way that we are now doing. This includes:

– Followers … Most executives will over a successful career accumulate a coterie of followers, and the tendency for many successful and mobile managers is to take them along in their travels. I believe that this is mostly wrong. A key role of every manager is to create and develop talent for the whole organisation rather than only for themselves. Furthermore, keeping a team of people with you, across different roles and different companies, means that you just continue to perpetuate your own image and beliefs in an ever changing business environment. Your direct reports, especially those that are skilled, are like your children, in that you can train them, grow them, teach them values such as integrity and honesty, and then cut them loose to build their own successes rather than to trail along behind yours. New situations and new companies will need new people and different ideas.

– History … I have no question that it is important that we all learn from history, but it is critically important that we do not become prisoners of history. The fact that something worked (or did not work) some time ago in your past does not mean that it will (or will not) work today. Philosopher and novelist George Santayana (1863-1952) is believed to have said “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The point is that many of us build patterns that we tend to repeat whether they worked well or not. Successful executives tend to try and address new situations with an open and fresh approach rather than to believe that past patterns will always provide a solution to new challenges.

Author: W. J. Robertson and the Education Department of Ontario; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: W. J. Robertson and the Education Department of Ontario; via Wikimedia Commons

– Beliefs … While key human and business values may not readily need to change, beliefs should be questioned at all times. One such example is the belief that women are mainly only capable of succeeding in certain management roles such as HR and Finance, and that executive roles in fields such as Engineering and Sales are much more suited to males, this being a statement made to me recently by a company CEO. What a load of bollocks, as it has been proved over and over again that management skills and management roles are not gender specific. My father believed that medical practitioners sat at the right hand of god and were infallible, and that bank managers should be revered and feared, both beliefs that have been proved to be entirely incorrect today. To be successful, managers need to ensure that they are not building their environment on ingrained, but outdated and hence questionable beliefs.

– Successful strategies … I have met quite a few executives who seem to have a belief in the “one size fits all” approach when it comes to developing business strategies, based on the simple fact that something has worked for them in the past, and so they are reluctant to let it go. Successful strategies in the past need to remain exactly that … in the past. I have come across people who on their resumes claim to have 15 years of experience, but who on closer examination really may only have 3 years of experience five times, having implemented the same approach and the same strategic initiatives each time, and often having then moved on before this one approach to business challenges even had a chance to be well tested.

Author: Pkor43 at English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Pkor43 at English Wikipedia; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

– Busyness rather than business … Many executives clutter their day with meetings, emails, attendance at conferences and other commitments on their calendar that keeps them incredibly busy, but in areas that add little real value to their careers or to their company. Simplicity is not about how much we can do with how little, but is more about how well we can prioritise and how good we are at doing the important things first. When you are clear about your role, your purpose and your priorities you can more easily discard whatever is unnecessary.

American author Christina Scalise rightly said “Clutter is the physical manifestation of unmade decisions fuelled by procrastination.”



  1. Frank says:

    Congrats on selling the Chateau. St. Emilion is one of my favourite wine communes.
    Happy for you to help de-clutter my garage when your next in Sydney, given you’re becoming skilled at it, laughed as I dropped my charger collections etc. off at the recent Council “tech collection, for recycling”, interesting, much of the desk/management de-clutter doesn’t re-cycle.
    Again, great analogy and food for thought.
    Thanks and regards, Frank

  2. Max Burnet says:

    I have an ancient cartoon on my wall which shows Leunig surrounded by snake-like chargers.
    It says, there comes a moment when all the cables, leads, battery chargers and power adapters we have ever owned gather together and assemble themselves around us and ask the terrible question “what has happened to your life?”

  3. John says:

    Good luck on downsizing. Your secrets of success when completed will be helpful.

  4. Paul O says:

    Hi Les.

    Boy, can I relate. We just bought a two-bedroom condo in an “over age 55” community, and now need to sell our significantly larger five-bedroom Victorian. The de-cluttering project is mind-boggling. I have found a very practical technique: putting things out on the curb with a large sign saying “free stuff.” It is simply remarkable to see what people will take!

    Best of luck in your “detaching from stuff” project. I hope you find something wonderful in the land of very fine wine.

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