The Winter of our Discontent

Christmas, some say, is on the top of a steep hill.  The nearer you get, the steeper it becomes.  As we reach the end of our third lockdown, one starts to feel the same way.   I still haven’t had my vaccination, so I’m very stuck, until that happens.  Like many other self-employed people I’ve had to turn down work and thus been prevented from earning a living.  It’s a very frustrating time.

Generally, winter months can be a problem when you find it hard to stay organised.  Dismal weather isn’t conducive to doing things and there is a tendency to hunker down and hibernate, so now is the time to call up some creativity, if you find things getting on top of you.

Lockdowns aside, if the weather is so bad that you have to stay indoors anyway, why not use that as a reason to spruce-up your space?  Try a bit of feng shui – move the sofa so it faces another way, put your fave snuggle chair near a window so you get more light.  Experiment with arrangement – have fun with your furniture!

As 1980s pop-art-nouveau oddballs the B52s said: “Dance this mess around”.  Put on some music and move your stuff – it’s a great way to refresh.  It invigorates your physical space and your brainspace.  Serious ‘spring cleaners’ love moving furniture for these reasons.  For the rest of us, this way, we don’t have to push it all back again.

A Lovely Space.
Pic: A mess that I “danced around” recently, or where my sofa used to be, is now (after some cleaning) an interesting space. I haven’t worked out what to do with it yet, but I enjoy looking at it. Sofa is now out of pic, on the left, so it looks out of the window.

Take down your ornaments and give them a good wash – glass and china shines up a treat.  If you can’t wash them, dust them carefully.  Clean the mantels and ledges.  Put the ornaments back in a different place, or maybe swap them for others in a different room.  Is it time to declutter?  Remove the ones you no longer like!

The covid plague has taught us that it makes sense to do some general surface cleaning.  Any ordinary soap-based detergents destroy viruses by breaking down the oil-based skin that surrounds them. You can use anti-bacterial cleaners, or keep it simple with very dilute white vinegar – but this is less effective against viruses.  If germs spread through contact, the best thing you can do is to keep your living space clean, especially on hard surfaces, doors, railings etc.

Don’t overdo it – if you’ve been ill or you’re finding it hard to get motivated, it takes time to get your energy back.  The physical exercise of cleaning will be good for you, but doing too much will slow down your recovery.  So pace yourself, do a good job, and enjoy doing it.  Reward yourself with a rest and a hot drink afterwards.  No matter how small, admire what you have achieved.  It’s one less thing you have ‘to do’, one more thing ‘DONE’.

As the song says “Now, don’t that make you feel a whole lot better?

Journeys

Every step we take is a journey, from here to there.

‘Make every journey count’ is a mantra some people live by, especially if they want to stay in control – or indeed, take back control.  Even in my odd-shaped abode, the journey to the kitchen isn’t really a ‘long’ one.  How do I make it count?  Every time I get up to go to the kitchen, I take a look around me and see what needs to go back there.

Usually it’s crockery, but it might be a letter that needs posting or a coat that needs to be hung up in the hall, or something for the recycling box.  It’s something that doesn’t live in the lounge, it’s in what I call the ‘wrong’ place.  If it’s in the ‘wrong’ place it is not organised and that means I am not in control.

So I pick up that plate and return it from whence it came.  I stay in control.

You only have one pair of hands so if your room has become really disorganised, you might think removing the odd plate or cup will make no difference, but think of it like a tiny step in a long journey.  It’s just to get you going.  The journey you make to your kitchen is one you will make many times, so why not make the most of it?  Make it more interesting, make it the start of your recovery program, where you take back control of your space.  Maybe you will feel the tingle you get from this small improvement.  Pretty soon you might find yourself making extra journeys to the kitchen (maybe even via some other room) just for that nice feeling of achievement.

Every journey begins with a single step, so take a look around your immediate space, spot the item that’s in the wrong place and pick it up before you go.  Every journey we make counts – and now those journeys have added purpose, they matter even more.

Or maybe you’ll just feel like you’ve put a few plates back, but at least they are where they should be.  It’s a start.

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 joke about doing something when we get ‘a round tuit’.  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.

Bin there, done that

If you’re struggling with a problem, any problem, it pays to talk about it.  Talking enables you describe a problem far better than merely thinking about it.

So talk.  Even if you can only talk to yourself, or your cat or your goldfish, have the conversation that describes your problem.

Here’s an example.  I found an old music cassette I never liked, and felt bad about throwing it away.  I had bought it with my own money, it was mine, it has a non-recyclable plastic case.  Not many charity shops will take them, and I couldn’t think of anyone who would want it.  Someone had worked hard to produce it.  All this rubbish (and more) was going on in my mind, preventing me from getting rid of something I simply didn’t want!

So I talked the problem through, talked out loud all those bothers listed above, and ended up (rather angrily) chucking it in the bin.  There was a reason for this: Stuff you simply ‘don’t want’ is never going to become stuff you want.  But most of the potential solutions I talked to myself about to get rid of it required extra effort, and time I didn’t have. 

This silly tape was blocking me.  I needed a solution now.  The simplest ‘right now’ solution was the bin.

Think about this: if my problem is physically ‘in the bin’, I have flagged it ‘for removal’, without chucking it out completely which, for some reason, I can’t face right now.  But I have dealt with the initial problem, and conveyed it to the next stage. 

This ‘conveyor belt’ approach is important.  It keeps us moving and prevents our problems from blocking us.  If we agonise over ‘what if’ scenarios, we get stuck, and we don’t have time for that.  Put the problem on the ‘conveyor belt’ and wave goodbye as it goes away.

The bin won’t be emptied for a week or two, maybe longer.  This gives my brain time to process any worries I have in slow time, while my body can get on with making breakfast, cleaning the house, or whatever.  I can always rescue the cassette if I feel I really need to.

Scientific research has shown that people who talk to themselves have better mental health. Have a look at: https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/the-minute-therapist/201712/do-you-talk-yourself

So why not give it a go, and see how you solve your own problems.

Oh, and that cassette?  It’s still there, sitting in my bin – but it isn’t blocking me anymore – it helped me write this post!  So I can thank it for that.  It will soon be buried under other ‘binnable’ stuff, and I can probably throw it out (it’s halfway there already).  I can’t do much about the plastic or the tape, but I’ll probably recycle the paper insert.

The longer things sit in bins, the easier it is for us to let go of them.  Perhaps that’s the real purpose of bins – to act as a temporary repository, giving us time to process, and let things go.