How COVID-19 has changed our relationship with clutter


After decades in the US, Aussie-born clutter organiser Peter Walsh is back on home soil.

One of the stars of Space Invaders, which launches on Channel 9 on February 26, Walsh will join house flipping queen Cherie Barber and trash and treasure expert Lucas Callaghan as they take on homes full of clutter to sell what they can, purge the rest, and make the most of the space.

After taking his corporate training business to the US in 1994 and the subsequent dot com bust, he auditioned for a decluttering show on the Discovery Channel, which landed him a similar role on the Oprah Show and then the Rachel Ray show, while also writing eight books. The pandemic expedited his return to Australia last year.

peter walsh space invaders clutter

Did you find that interest in decluttering hit a high with lockdown?

Certainly in the US and here in Australia, there was a reset button that gave people a chance to reassess what's important to them. It's a weird thing to say, lockdown has caused people mental anguish and trauma, but a little blessing has come with re-examining what's important in our lives, and one of those is human connection and the value of the experience of reconnecting with people rather than the pursuit of happiness through spending. We live in a society that has shown that happiness is in a shop...if we just buy the right thing it will provide happiness. Lockdown has exploded that myth.

Tell me about your new show?

The show is a very simple concept with 10 episodes. Clutter is a major concern in people's lives, we go into homes where people are off the rails and struggling to deal with clutter in their homes. Someone nominates the family - we go in, remove the clutter from two or three rooms, take the clutter to a nearby hall and usually help the family get rid of 70-80% of clutter in 48 hours. Meanwhile, Cherie works with her team to renovate the rooms we have decluttered and Lucas Callaghan works on finding items of value to sell. Each family has been very different; one family was an empty nester, one had a garage that had untouched stuff in it for 10 years; there was a single mum whose stuff was overwhelming, and a man whose wife and mother died, leaving behind 1200 dolls.

What was your first job?

I grew up in a tiny Victoria town. My father had a service station and my job was filling the oil bottles and sweeping the service station driveway after school.

What's the best money advice you've ever received?

The best money advice I ever received was if you loan money to friends and family, only do so with the mindset or expectation that you will never ever have it repaid to you because then you can never be disappointed. You then loan it without attachment or expectation. There is no risk of resentment if it doesn't come back to you.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

From my grandmother, it's advice I give to people all the time on the TV shows - and it's to people who say they are great shoppers or people who say they have bought something on sale. You can go broke saving money! The best investment I have made, and I do this all the time, I secretly pay it forward and so when I see a couple like my parents when I'm out for dinner I always pay for their dinner and that's the best investment I make. The investment is not a monetary one, it's just a soul investment.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

Getting into a relationship with a partner and not first checking that he had the same values, commitment and philosophy to things financial, money management, and spending as me. That we didn't have the money talk before we entered into a serious relationship. That was the worst investment decision I made because it was only later, too late, I realised that his spending patterns and his belief in the value and use of money were at complete odds to mine. I've never made that mistake again. The money talk is often forgotten as an important part of entering into any serious relationship.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

I don't splurge, but I like Italian nougat ice-cream at Messina. Other than that I tend to spend on new experiences. I don't tend to spend on myself, but if there's a great art exhibit or opportunity to travel somewhere or road trips, or small country towns I haven't been to, I love to experience local culture. I don't feel the need to have stuff and hold onto stuff, I splurge on conversation and experiences.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

Without a second thought, on my home, because if COVID has taught us anything is that our homes have become our nest, haven and sanctuary, and instead of looking outward for comfort and leisure and nesting, our homes have become that. For me, your home should give you everything you want - if it's not feeding your soul then where are you getting that nurturing?

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

I've been in situations like that. It's terrifying, I remember it vividly, it was an incredibly frightening moment. Fortunately, I had an incredibly supportive partner at the time who said, 'we're in this together'. At this stage I don't know what I'd do. And I don't know how people can do it. I was raised as one of seven children, Dad ran the service station...the prospect of poverty really frightens me.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

No, I do not. I keep a list of people who have done acts of kindness through my life - they don't know who they are. In my will I have left those people parcels of money, they probably won't even know who I am or remember those acts of kindness. I thought that would be great if someone did that to me so I intend to do that to other people.

What's been your best money-making career move?

Say yes, when it would have been so much easier to say no.

Finish this sentence: money makes...
... life much easier but if it's in first position ahead of family and kindness and generosity it will make you a sad and bitter and miserable person.

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Julia Newbould was editor-at-large and later managing editor of Money from November 2019 to February 2022. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.
Adam Gordon
February 20, 2021 3.48pm

Peter Walsh sounds like an absolute gentleman! I'll be tuning into his show as someone very close to me also leads an extremely cluttered life! I wonder if he'll bring the show down under ;)