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.

On the Shelf

Floors are wonderful spaces.  You can put things on floors.  You can stand, sit, lie, exercise, eat, read, sleep and work on floors.

Here’s a mildly amusing anecdote I heard many years ago – so many years in fact, that one might have whimsically referred to a radio as a ‘wireless’, and not caused too much confusion among younger people around you.

A man was stuck in a traffic jam and noticed a small shop that always appeared to be open, yet didn’t appear to sell anything.  The lights were on, the door was open, customers occasionally went in and out, but their window display showed only empty shelves – it didn’t appear to sell anything.

The tailback was very long and it enabled the man to take a good look at the shop, finally to realise that it sold shelving systems.

Which brings me conveniently to the subject of this week’s epic blogular post.  It may provide a solution, if you feel your situation would benefit from it.

If you can’t see your floor, or can’t see much of it, this is because you have put too many things on it.  You will be unable to achieve many of the wonderful activities listed above, and that would be a shame. 

Fig 1: A floor, seen from above (actual shape and colour may vary).

Try doing those things on a wall.  Tricky, isn’t it.  No matter how hard we try, we can’t do anything on walls without having to ‘hang on’ in some way, and that prevents us from doing anything else.  So what’s the point of walls, and how can they help you sort out your stuff?  I will tell you.

Walls are great places to put shelves.  Shelves are great places to put stuff.  In fact, that’s the only purpose of shelves!  It is their one real purpose in life, and, unlike many of us, they achieve it well.  Brilliantly, in fact.

Take a look at your floors.  How much of them can you see?

OK, now take a look at your walls.  I expect you can see a lot more of them, yes?  If you’re the sort of person who likes pictures, perhaps you won’t see much wall, but for many of us, if we were to work out the area of wall we could see, and compare that figure with our floor space, we’d find a lot more wall.

Fig2: A Wall, Two or three Shelves could be built-in to each alcove, or free-standing shelves could be placed here, to take items off the floor. I’ve removed some pictures to demonstrate just how much space is available.

So here’s a notion: how great would it be if we could turn all that useless wall space into useful floor space?  It would be very great, I think.  But how do we turn vertical spaces into horizontal spaces?  The answer lies in Shelves.

There are two principal types of shelving system: wall-mounted, and floor mounted.  Shelves mounted anywhere else will not work properly.  I would not recommend mounting shelves to a ceiling; that’s just asking for trouble.

The wonderful thing about shelves is they come in many forms so you should be able to find a form that suits you.  If you feel unsure about fitting them yourself, there are many people out there who may be able to help, even me.  Yes, I will fit shelves if you think they will help you sort out your stuff (and you would be right about that).  My only stipulation is – you buy the shelves.  It’s simpler this way.

Shelves are wonderful things.  They turn lots of ‘dead’ vertical space into functional, useful horizontal space.  They get stuff off your floors.  They place useful stuff at eye-level (a wonderful place), or very nearly so.  So all your important stuff is easy to find.

At a pinch, with judicious use of hooks, you can even hang stuff underneath shelves!  This is useful in places like kitchens, where utensils and cups can be stored for easy access, or where storage may be limited.  Just don’t put too much load on them.

Best of all, shelves enable you to appreciate your floor again for the fabulous space it is.  A great floor is one you can stretch out on and not be able to touch anything, preferably in all directions.  This enables you to reclaim a fabulous space to yourself, one that is all yours to enjoy.

Re-connect with your floors in your life – install shelves.

Bossin’ it

First, find a safe space to work.

Offices where you have to go to work are only good if you’re the boss.  If you have an office at home, you’re very lucky.  An office is a great place to get organised, and it’s even an ok place to be a bit disorganised and still look pretty cool at the same time.

If you had an office at home but can’t remember where you left it/where it is, hmm, not so good, but on the plus side, you know it’s there somewhere.  All you need to do is find it.

I’m being flippant – one needs to treat these situations with humour, or they become overwhelming.  To return to the subject, an office is a wonderful place to start getting yourself organised.

So pull on your organising trousers and let’s fix this.  Maybe you have a spare bedroom, or a spare bed, or a spare table (a trestle/decorator’s table will do), maybe even a garage floor (but beware of dust).  Any big space like this will help you to sort stuff out into piles of

  1. stuff you need
  2. stuff you don’t need
  3. stuff you aren’t sure about

You may even be able to sort it further, like specific bill types – but if you want to work fast and efficiently, stick with these three piles first.

This all assumes you have such rooms or organising spaces available.  If you read this and think ‘Hm, I can’t find a useable office space like Neil suggests’, then your problem is a bit more sticky, and you might want to give someone like me a call.  It’s a bit like unravelling a badly packed bundle of Christmas lights, and at those times it helps to have a second person to help out.

Give me a call on 07985 490 810 and find out how I can help.

Don’t let the clutter boss you about.  Boss your clutter!