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.

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.

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.