Why it's time to spring clean your friends!

Why it's time to spring clean your friends!

March 14, 2021

Our calendars are filling up — but do you REALLY want to see all those people again? Yes, it might sound anti-social, but here an author says: Why it’s time to spring clean your friends!

  • Debora Robertson advises on how to live a simpler, happier life after lockdown
  • Edits out people who no longer share literal or metaphorical geographical bonds
  • Author recommends not accepting invitations without love in your heart

After a year of enforced isolation, it’s almost time to kick off our slippers, put on our party shoes and get back out there.

Let joy be unconfined, or at least as unconfined as possible while still observing caution, washing our hands and competing for the last table on the terrace, even though it’s blowing a gale and, behind our cosy masks, our teeth are chattering.

You’re pleased about that, right?

Many of us can’t wait to let the good times roll, but I know some are viewing the less-locked-down life with trepidation. While the privations of the past year have been immense, not having to put on heels or clothes that are strangers to elastic has had its charms.

The cosiness of a night on the sofa with a film — while few of us want to do that every night — is certainly more appealing than a warm white wine at a party you went to more out of obligation than desire.

From not accepting every invitation to cutting social media, Debora Robertson shares her advice for a simpler, happier life after lockdown (file image)

When we go back to ‘normal’, perhaps we can just, not? Not toe the obligatory party line of accepting every invitation we’re sent, not keep up with those relationships that have naturally run their course, not say yes to events or people that no longer make us happy?

As a student, I had a housemate who used to talk about ‘geographical friendships’, those friends we make simply because we share the same postcode. The postcode can be literal — we live in the same town — or metaphorical: we’re at the same life stage. It wasn’t said disparagingly.

Those people can be important to us, we can love them even, but once the geographical nature of the friendship drifts, the friendship just might, too. Throughout my life, I have embraced this idea. I’ve never clung on to old friendships or relationships, like an old coat that might come in useful one day.

Of course, I have friends I’ve known for decades and I adore them. But I think it’s perfectly fine to cast off those with whom you no longer have a strong connection. If nothing else, it makes room for lovely new people. There’s not one person I feel ambivalent about seeing again, having been on a constant mission to gently edit out people with whom I no longer share those literal or metaphorical geographical bonds.

If this past year’s enforced solitude has led you to reassess your circle, and you want some pointers on how to live a simpler, happier life, I have scattered some breadcrumbs along the path as a route map on how to do it with grace . . .


Try not to accept invitations without love in your heart. Declining gets easier the more you practise it and, as things open up, we will hopefully have more plausible excuses than: ‘I am planning to be really heavily involved in watching Married At First Sight that night.’

Debora said we sometimes suggest plans out of awkwardness, but try saying ‘hope we meet again soon’ instead if you have no real intentions of following through (file image)


A useful barometer when considering whether to accept an invitation is to ask yourself this: it’s Friday night, 8pm, you fling open your front door and they’re standing there with a bottle of red in their hands and a hopeful smile on their face. Does your heart sink or soar? Fill your diary and your life with the soar people.


Sometimes, out of awkwardness, we end conversations with, ‘You must come to dinner’ because ‘Goodbye’ doesn’t feel like a whole sentence. If you have no real intention of inviting them, try saying: ‘I have so enjoyed our chat, I hope we meet again soon.’ Then swiftly move along.


Many of us are people-pleasers. We hate to say no. We don’t want to hurt feelings. What lockdown has taught some of us is that we can enjoy time on our own, to read, garden, cook, exercise, perfect our dazzling jigsaw technique, or just to think. If this sort of time feeds your soul more than a night in the pub with people who exhaust you, now you know which needs to be your priority.

Debora said mute, block, unfollow and unfriend anyone who drags you down on social media (file image)


One of the benefits of all of this new-found time is that it makes space to invite into your life people who better reflect who you are now. In case you’ve forgotten how, take a class, go to a lecture, volunteer. If you have formed strong bonds with some online friends during lockdown, perhaps arrange to meet one or two in real life.


Many of us have enjoyed and sometimes endured a lot of screen time over the past year. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the rest have sustained and entertained us. But sometimes it’s been a bit much, hasn’t it? Step back from anything that doesn’t make you happy. Mute, block, unfollow and unfriend anyone who drags you down. And while many of us use Zoom for work, it’s fine to decline Zoom quizzes or drinks if the thought fills you with dread.


We are all trying to get through this as best we can and we all have our personal approach to what we are ready to do and when. Anyone who attempts to ridicule or minimise your feelings on this is not your friend. And chances are, if they won’t respect your boundaries on this, they won’t on other things either. Free yourself.

Debora recommends pursuing a shared interest to deepen the bonds with people you really like (file image)


This is a time to deepen the bonds with people you really like. Pursue a shared interest, take a class together, go to the theatre, learn to surf, whatever makes you both happy.


If someone you care for is seeing other people before they see you, don’t take it personally. It will be all the sweeter when you do see each other, and nothing sours a friendship quite as swiftly as joylessly keeping score over things that don’t matter.


This past year has broken all norms and routines. See that as an opportunity. Don’t just revisit the same old friendship traditions if they don’t lift your soul. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote: ‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’ Do it now.

Manners: A Modern Field Guide by Debora Robertson and Kay Plunkett-Hogge (£12.99, Pavilion) is out now.

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