Containment

Maybe it’s a sign of the times; I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot lately.  If your space is limited, every square inch of space you can create becomes valuable.  My kitchen is small, and everything I buy comes in different-shaped containers, so I started thinking about more ordered, organised storage solutions.  You can buy storage jars or boxes, but I rarely find these satisfactory.  Despite their stylishness, they often feature fiddly clip locks and don’t work all that well in terms of shape or size.

What I’ve done is to ‘re-purpose’ some plastic jars that I found were a handy size and easy to open.  These are old coffee whitener jars and they have proved ideal for rice, pasta, nuts, sultanas and raisins.  There are other things I could use them for, but these are staples of my diet.  All you have to do is find containers that you like and which can be re-purposed for other items.

How jars can make a statement, and that statement is: "Hey, this dude is organised".
Fig1: One Jar, many contents.
You can label them or customise them as you wish.
The original jar is on the right.

Not necessarily in the kitchen, either.  I’ve seen jam jars re-purposed as containers under a shelf in a garage for screws, nuts and bolts etc. Under the shelf is a great way of making the most of your available space (more of that anon).

If I buy items ‘loose’, this is a good method to cut down on my plastic waste.  Dried fruit and such can be bought in a paper bag and de-canted to the jars when I unpack the shopping.  The paper bags are useful for my food recycling bin.

Is this a bad time?

There was never a more apposite expression to describe our current situation.  90% of the world has been brought to a near standstill by the covid-19 pandemic, and as I write, it doesn’t look like things will change.  If you’re feeling uncomfortable with it all, I sympathise.  I’ve had a few bad days and nights and I know other people feel the same way.  Uncertainty is nobody’s friend, but if there’s one thing that’s certain about this whole episode, it’s that nothing is certain, and probably won’t be for some time to come.

Not the most helpful way to start a blog post about decluttering, but the covid outbreak has been a showstopper for ‘normal’ activities, and like most other people, my normal routine has been thrown into a cocked hat. Many people in the media have been discussing their alternative routines and wondering whether they need to re-assess their priorities in the light of all that is happening.

Few, if any of us, are now able to indulge in group activities, and many little freedoms we might once have enjoyed in our ‘spare’ time have been denied us.  To take an ‘on-subject’ example, I wanted to declutter a few items, but was unable to, because the local recycling centre has been closed!  The charity shops I know are all closed for deliveries.  So all these simple tidy-up tasks I cannot do, for the time being.  That’s a little frustrating, to say the least.

It’s still possible to use our wheelie bins to ditch a few bits, but I’d rather not do that for items that could be re-used, and we all have our day-to-day garbage to dispose of.  No-one likes an overflowing dustbin.

For the reasons above, this is not a great time to start a decluttering project.  So how can we make best use of our time, now that time is all we have?

What I have done a great deal of in this enforced ‘slow time’, is look at the heaps of little things I have and see if I can’t organise them a little better.  Childrens toys, ornaments, books, socks etc.  In my case, it’s old photographs.  I have lots of them, some my own, some inherited, an historic family archive.  So I’m playing lots of ‘snap’, making piles of pictures and seeing if I can locate duplicates, or find all those odd ‘loose’ photos that have fallen out of packets and find out where they came from.

I’m scanning lots of old photos.  This gives me the option to ditch the hard copies and keep the ‘memory’.  Photographic paper is high quality and can go in your recycling box.

I haven’t forgotten my computer either.  Over the years, many files have gotten jumbled up, and now has provided ample time to look over these, delete stuff that I don’t need/want anymore (loads of old pictures and project files) and organise the others into more appropriately named folders.  Even in the simplest terms, I can organise files into year-dated folders.  This is a great way to keep track of memories, especially in the form of photographs, or typed letters.

I won’t deny that after a while, this could become a very tedious, boring task!  But when all we have at our disposal is time, we can take as much time as we like over this project, and even if we don’t finish it, we will have made huge strides into getting ourselves more organised than we have been for many a long year.

Tedious or ‘fiddly’ tasks like this require focus.  So spend time on them, enjoy the memories they uncover*; there is no need to rush.  It will take your mind off the current global predicament, which is not a problem of your making, not your fault.  By obeying the government guidelines and staying in, you are playing an important part in the solution.  No need to do more.

Rather like that old gag about doing something when we get ‘a round tuit’.  Well, along with all it’s problems, covid-19 has provided a round tuit for all of us, to start catching up with stuff we never thought we’d catch up with.

*If the things you find uncover bad memories, now might be an excellent time to consider decluttering such items ‘with maximum prejudice’.  Put them in the bin, and wave them goodbye.

DIY – Do It – Your shelf

In a previous post I talked about how great shelves were at getting stuff off your floors and out of your way, and helping you get organised.  I even showed you a picture of a wall and highlighted how great walls can be for putting shelves on – but there were no shelves on that wall!

A lot has happened since that post, and by way of apology I’ve tried to improve that situation by creating a video on the subject of shelves and how to add them to your home.

You can get someone to do this for you (someone like me, perhaps) or you can do-it-yourself.  But if no-one has ever shown you how to make shelves, it’s probably best to see how it’s done before trying for yourself.  So here’s a first small step for Devon Clutter Busters into the world of YouTube broadcasting, you can find our shelf-making video here:

You don’t need any fancy equipment, a regular electric drill is about as fancy as it gets.  Mine has a variable speed for more control (most drills will have that now).  As you will see, a spirit level is handy, and a set square.

I’ve deliberately made it a ‘warts-and-all’ video, as I wanted to show people what really happens and how it’s ok to make a few mistakes along the way (everybody does), and that most mistakes… well, they aren’t such a big deal.

The YT channel is a new idea for us, and not one we know much about, but we hope we can add stuff to it that you will find useful, and we will try to link the channel to  other useful information, via the ‘playlists’ feature.

Update: Following helpful comments, I’ve created a version with more written instructions so the video is easier to follow. It’s on the same channel, entitled “Making a Shelf 2”

Hard Times

A friend of mine was once relating her time as a teenager, living in a convent boarding school.  Students took full part in the day-to-day upkeep of the convent, and for her, this meant being assigned various ‘domestic’ duties which kept everything shipshape.  Cleaning was a big part of this.

We’re talking about the 1950s, when cleaning materials for most were pretty basic – rough scrubbing brushes, blocks of hard soap if you were lucky.  The convent sisters were used to strict discipline, and this meant a regular routine of cleaning and dusting. 

We have an array of chemicals for cleaning today.  Back then, my friend was given one rough cloth and a bucket of water, not even any soap.  The sisters believed that regular cleaning required nothing more, and to a large extent, that’s true, if you have a lot of energetic people to do the work!

Nevertheless, it was a routine that she stuck to, all her life, and to my knowledge, she still cleans her home in this way.  ‘If you clean regularly,’ she says, ‘a damp cloth is all you need, to keep down the dust.’

It’s a good discipline, if you are able to cling to it, and I can honestly say it works, but it does take a lot of discipline. The plus side is, not buying cleaning products means you save money!

Spiders – an introduction

If you can dedicate some time to cleaning, the final result of a decluttering session will be ten times more satisfying.  Decluttering uncovers a lot of stuff you probably weren’t expecting: papers and old pens that have fallen behind cabinets, glitter from childrens craft projects, and cobwebs – lots of cobwebs.

Spiders, like any bugs, love those cosy heaps of stuff we make.  They make a happy, peaceful living in those little nooks and crannies.  Don’t be too hard on spiders; they’re very good at keeping your house free of other bugs that no-one wants.

But it’s still your space, not theirs, so they have to accept a little bit of upheaval now and again.  Don’t feel bad about ‘evicting’ your spiders; they’re very resourceful, and soon find somewhere else to go.

Make molehills out of the mountain

You might find the expression ‘cleaning the house’ overwhelming – with good reason!  Houses are big (even the small ones), and contain a lot of stuff.  The thought of cleaning your entire house, flat or apartment, in one go, might prevent anyone from ever getting started.

If that’s the case, break the job into small bits.  Ask yourself ‘how long can I keep going on a physical task before I get tired?’

Let’s say you can do fifteen minutes, before you need to stop.  Now ask yourself ‘what little cleaning job can I do in that time?’  Can you… clean the kitchen sink? vacuum the lounge carpet? wash a few windows inside?  Just do one task and see how long it takes you.  If you then feel you can do another, great, but stop if you need to.  You’ve still achieved your target task within a target timeframe. You have achieved your objective. Well done; reward yourself for that.

Clean Start

We haven’t really talked about it, so at the risk of sounding reckless, I’m introducing a new ‘category’ to my blog posts.  Cleaning is the friendly relative of organising and decluttering.  You don’t have to do it, but while you’re in the process of moving your stuff around into a solution that suits you better, it is worth doing a bit of cleaning.

It really is ‘just a bit’, too.   We’re talking about stuff that’s been sitting around for a while, it’s going to pick up some dust – but usually it isn’t half as bad as you thought it would be, and pretty easy to get back to where you want it, i.e. nice and clean again.

Clutter tends to build up over time, so it gathers dust like anything else.  But a quick wipe over with a damp cloth could be all it takes to fix the problem.  We’ll be looking at a few examples of light cleaning tasks and useful ideas over the next few days, so stay tuned for updates.