Interview with Hannah Ashwell-Dickinson | Professional Declutter

What do you do? How would you describe your working life?

I am a minimalist mum of two girls 3 and 7; I play netball and I run a decluttering business. 

I spent 15 years working in the theatre before starting a family and was totally devoted to my work and to the Industry. I pretty much lived and breathed theatre so it was a bit of a shock when we started a family and I realised I had to completely re prioritise my working life! I know many people who manage to juggle theatre and family life but after two years of stressing over childcare, poor working hours and lack of money I decided to take a break. After having my second daughter I realised the spark for my previous theatre life had gone. I also began to feel very isolated and spent a lot of time feeling overwhelmed. 

Two years ago, I realised that a combination of this overwhelm and boredom had led me to leading a very cluttered and 'busy' life. Both physically with too much stuff in our house, but also mentally and digitally.

I have spent the last two years decluttering all areas of my life, slowing down and completely re thinking how I want to live and how I want to raise my girls. I’m a huge advocate of simple living, my life is richer and deeper with less. It led me to start my decluttering business where I help people declutter and organise their houses and their lives, supporting them in finding space to live the lives they actually want to be living.  

I've come to realise that there is no such thing as work/life balance. There is just life and around that there are different priorities at different times. I am the main caregiver for my girls as my partner travels away for work, so my home-life and work-life are completely intertwined. I need to be available for school and nursery drop offs, pick-ups and sick days etc. For that to work, alongside running a business, I keep our lives simple. Success nowadays is defined as how busy we are and I think that can be detrimental to our wellbeing. To avoid overwhelm and to keep myself and my family healthy and I am pretty ruthless about what I say yes to. I have stopped being afraid of saying, 'thanks, but no, that's not for me'! 

The idea of simple living and living an uncluttered life is not some kind of wish to go backwards to a kind of 'Little House on The Prairie' lifestyle. It's about being able to navigate and embrace the busy, fast-paced world we live in without burning out. 

Hannah Ashwell- Dickinson

Describe your morning routine.

I am a big routine person. It’s the only way I can cope with the demands of two children. I do a lot of solo-parenting so I need to be super organised. I get the girls’ clothes ready the night before and have usually chosen what I am going to wear too. I have a capsule wardrobe which means everything in my wardrobe fits me and is appropriate for the season. This means I don’t have to make decisions in the morning when I’m blurry eyed and I know I will feel good in what I’m wearing.

I get up at around 6.30am in the hope I can have 10 minutes to myself before the girls wake. This sometimes works but often they wake me. My oldest often gets herself and her sister breakfast while I shower and dress which is amazing! 

I write a to do list every morning so I know I will be able to fulfil my work and parenting roles without being stressed out. If I’m going to be out of the house with a client I get snacks, lunches etc ready for the girls in the morning so I know they are sorted for the day. 

If I’m working from home, I drop the girls off and either run or go for a swim before heading home. 

Where do you get your ideas/inspiration from and when do they arrive?

We live in a very busy part of East London which is full of inspiration at every turn. I run a few times a week to stay fit but also to gain headspace and banish those self-doubts that creep in!

Mostly ideas come to me when I take a break and get out of London. Having time away from the house always give me a chance to re-evaluate our living space and how we could use space better. I often have a bit of a declutter session when we get home! It also gives me headspace to address sticking points with the business and ideas of how I can help my clients more. 

Being away from home also gives me time to think the many commitments we have as a family and whether they add value to our lives. In the last year I have really simplified the girls’ after school commitments so that they have more time to play and also to be bored! School life is very pressured and I feel time out of school should be slow and full of imaginative play (also time flopped in front of the tv).

When motivation wavers, how do you get back on track?

I take a break and take a walk! I love listening to podcasts and alternate between pure entertainment to podcasts that are linked to my work.

I also read a lot. Now that my youngest is 3 I feel my brain is less mushy and I'm not so tired I can read and absorb the words!

What is the best thing about your job/lifestyle?

I love seeing the transformations my clients make in their lives! Whether it be helping them create a capsule wardrobe so that they feel good about what they are wearing every day. Or working with them to transform their living space into a calm place that they want to spend time in. Its inspiring to see a client freeing themselves from clutter and discovering how they really want to live their lives.

I feel so lucky to live where I live. We have an amazing community in the building I live in, which was built specifically for families. There are 14 kids all under 10 years old on my corridor alone, which means my daughters have playmates on their door step. It also means I have this network of incredible Mum's who offer support to each other. 

If you could do something else for the day- what would you do?

I used to have a dream of running a traditional sweetshop in the Yorkshire Dales with a cafe or B&B on the side! 

How do you overcome any challenges in your working life?

I am learning to live with fear and self-doubt. I heard on a podcast recently about there being two types of fear - the 'monsters under the bed fear' and the fear when you do something new and are stepping into a new, bigger space. The latter is when something big is about to happen and if you can lean in to that fear, then good things can happen. So, I try to follow my instinct as much as possible and know when fear is stopping me from something or when it's just not the direction I should be going in right now. 

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How do you celebrate your successes?

A dance around the living room! 

Do you have any tools/resources or rituals that you couldn’t live without?

Exercise in some form is a must for me. It boosts my self-esteem and gives me clarity.

I am totally attached to my phone which is something I used to feel ashamed of. But as someone who became very isolated from the world when I was at home with small babies, it really did offer me a lifeline. When I started using Instagram I found other women who had the same values as me which was so wonderful. I spent early motherhood in a state of constant guilt and anxiety and back then (2010) there were no blogs about how hard parenting was. I found forums like Mumsnet to be pretty toxic and incredibly judgemental. Finding other simple-living families on Instagram was a bit of a lightbulb moment for me. 

I am also indebted to my Dad who lives locally and does a lot of childcare for me. He loves spending time with the girls and offers them love and fun and takes them to exhibitions and on bike rides. 

Which books from your bookcase would you recommend?

The More of Less by Joshua Becker

Minimalism Live a Meaningful Life by Joshua Fields Milburn

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne

Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner 

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

Podcasts- TED Radio Hour; The West Wing Weekly; Simple Families; The Mminimalists; Letters to My Fanny.

Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things.

What are your daily essentials to make you feel ready?

Tea. Berocca. A shower. Red lipstick. I can face anything with those four things. 

What advice would you give your teenage self?

During my teen years I became quite a planner which was probably a form of control when other things in my life felt very much out of my control. This had the positive effect of me being very organised and calm but maybe meant I didn't always let go as much as my peers. We all wanted to grow up so quickly through our teens so i would encourage my teen self to just enjoy life and push the boundaries a bit more! 

Where would you like to be in 5 years time?

In five years I'll be 40 and my kids will be 12 and 8 so I plan to have a much better social life than I currently do! I would like to be travelling a bit more (with and without the kids). I still see myself living in London; growing my business; enjoying my kids. Just the simple stuff!

Find out more about Hannah and her decluttering services here