Gift recycling – are you a fan?

gift-1008894_1920.jpgHow fast did November go by? Can’t believe it’s December already and the seasons’ festivities are almost upon us. December is a busy time for us declutterers as it starts to dawn on people what needs to be done to prepare for that ‘perfect’ day.

It would be so nice if our homes were visitor ready year round but invariably they’re not and we always have a flurry of new clients wanting to declutter so they can feel proud of their homes when family and friends come to visit. Whilst I’m a big fan of November being the best time of the year to declutter, decluttering in December presents options to think a bit differently.

As a declutterer I have close encounters with people’s bad shopping decisions time after time. For me, if you’ve bought it, not used it and often can’t remember even buying it, it’s a no brainer to let it go to someone else who can enjoy it. For most of the year the options of where to offload your stuff are fairly standard:

  • family/friends (but please make sure they actually want your stuff so you’re not just involved in the great clutter pass the parcel game)
  • Ebay/Gumtree/Facebook selling sites
  • charity shops
  • Freecycle

But in December there are lots of brilliant ways to pass on your stuff and feel your impulsive purchase was not wasted. It’s called gift recycling. To be fair, it’s something that many people are uncomfortable with but as we all work towards a society with less waste it’s worth thinking about. December is a time for reflection on the year past, thanking those who’ve helped us and for thinking about those less fortunate. There are infinite opportunities to give gifts and extend kindness

  • teachers, TAs, lunchtime assistants, lollipop people (I’m pretty sure they’re not called lollipop people anymore so if someone wants to enlighten me I’d be grateful!)
  • toy appeals
  • food banks
  • secret santa gifts
  • school fairs
  • bottle tombolas

There are lots of possibilities. This list only scratches the surface. All you need to do is a good search around your home, look in drawers, wardrobes, in your food cupboards, in the loft, spare room. Gather your unwanted things together, make sure they are in date/not too dusty/still in fashion and gift away. Let the guilt go – despite your worst fears Auntie Beryl isn’t going to pop round and demand to know why you’re not wearing your Britney Spears slippers but someone somewhere is going to be delighted with them! And you are one step closer to that clutter free home. It’s a Win Win situation.

I need more hours in the day!

How often do we hear ourselves saying that and constantly feeling the burden of not getting things done.

Modern life is busy – there are so many more ‘things to do’ nowadays it’s easy to understand why people feel overwhelmed, frustrated with missed deadlines and struggling to complete errands.

But it needn’t be like that. As Napoleon Hill said “You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment. You can make your life what you want it to be.”

Here are a few simple rules and tools that help both ourselves and our clients:

  • Be realistic and don’t try to take on too much. Remember there is only one of you and ultimately even with help you have to make sure you leave time in the day for yourself.
  • Prioritise and focus on what really matters, tackle the need-to-haves before the nice-to-haves.
  • Keep track of your progress. Write it down or, if you are good with technology, try a tool like Wunderlist to help keep you on track whilst on the move. If you have lots to do then make different lists for different purposes. Personally, crossing off my to-do list with a purple highlighter makes me very happy.
  • Plan ahead. Don’t wait for things to catch you unawares, be ready for them. Get all your plans/birthdays/to-do’s in a diary or online calendar and get into the habit of checking it daily. Put reminders for the really important things, just in case!
  • Write a weekly meal plan and shop just once a week for everything, mySupermarket will help make sure you don’t spend more than you need and will alert you if something you buy regularly is on offer. Keep an active list somewhere that the family can add to when they spot that you are running short on something, we love the ideas here.
  • Be dedicated – now you know what you want to do and what’s most important to you, get started! Even if you only start by allocating 5-10 minutes each day to creating a more organised life, you will be surprised how much you can achieve. If you really struggle to get started or finish, enlist the help of a friend or family member to make you accountable for your goals.

If you are enjoying our tips then please do come and follow us on Twitter @Clutterfairyuk or Facebook and join in the conversation.

When does ‘stuff’ become clutter…?

 

One man’s clutter is another man’s treasure. Defining what counts as clutter is a personal thing – no general rules need apply here.

For example, we may have a client who collects a certain kind of ornament. To one person that would be considered clutter as it takes up space on the sideboards that could otherwise be clear. But to this client they are treasured possessions that are dearly loved and cherished and they are quite happy to give up the sideboard space for them.

Defining clutter is much more about how the ‘stuff’ in your home makes you feel. Let me ask you a few simple questions:

  • When you walk into your home do you feel instantly relaxed and comfortable?
  • Do you enjoy having people round?
  • Can you always find what you are looking for?
  • Do the possessions in your life bring you joy?
  • When you look around at the things you own, can you honestly say you use, need or love everything you possess?

If the answer is NO to any of the questions then you have some clutter in your life.

If you do not use it regularly, need it sometimes or love it all the time, it is time to question whether it should stay.

Why not try your own attempt at decluttering asking yourself these simple three questions for each item.

Remember – start small and you will be surprised how quickly you will gain momentum!

If you need some help with the decluttering process follow us on Twitter @Clutterfairyuk and Facebook for more helpful tips on how to beat the clutter for good. Better still, if you are in Manchester, Lancashire, Cheshire or North Wales, give us a call and we will gladly come around and help!

Ten months down, two to go…

I shared with you at the beginning of 2014 that my two best friends decided to go without buying any clothes, shoes or accessories for a whole year. I knew it would be tough for them. I never had any doubt they would do it but I thought they would be chomping at the bit to be out there shopping on New Years Day but it seems as if it has been more profound than that. Here’s a Q and A with Mary:

What have you learnt most from your ten months of abstinence?

I’m now a firm believer in “Less is more”. It’s so much easier having less. It takes less time to get ready to go out. I don’t spend hours agonising about what to wear as I have limited choice. I have got rid of loads of stuff that I don’t need. It makes things so much simpler.

You used to love to treat yourself to something new for special occasions. Has that been the hardest part?

Dressing well will always be something that is important to me but I previously mistook that for wearing something new. This is a real eye opener for me. Last year, I would always buy a new outfit for a special event. Now I am getting so much more value out of the clothes I have and allowing myself to enjoy them more.

You used to spend a lot of leisure time shopping. Has the shopping ban made you change behaviour?

I embarked on this challenge at at time when there were some big changes to my family life. I wanted to make sure I didn’t fill my newly found spare time shopping. I wanted to do other things, more rewarding things. This process has helped me so much. I have joined a gym, started singing, got my chickens at last and have been much more focused in running my business. I don’t need the boost I felt from retail therapy any more. I have learnt to address my feelings instead of covering them up going shopping. I am focusing on my needs now too as well as the rest of the family’s and that’s made me a more confident person. I am in a much better place emotionally than last year because I have faced change head on instead of hiding behind a clothes splurge.

Have you saved money?

I’ve not really kept count but I’m sure I have. But for me, it wasn’t just about that – it was a personal challenge and has become a journey.

Would you recommend this to anyone for 2015?

I would wholeheartedly recommend this to anyone brave enough to do it. In fact a couple of friends are giving it a go on a month by month basis. Good luck to anyone who wants to challenge themselves.

Curtailing the clutter in your kitchen

Increasingly, the kitchen is the hub of the family home, so it needs to function like a well oiled machine. But what’s the secret ingredient?

For me it’s accessibility and compromise. (I know that’s two ingredients, but both are essential)

It’s YOUR kitchen so you need a system that works for YOU. If you are a simple cook that relies heavily on convenience, don’t fall into the trap of being aspirational – you just don’t need all the latest gizmos and gadgets. But if your cooking is Michelin star worthy, then you’re going to need more than just a knife and a chopping board to see you through. But keep in mind your kitchen isn’t a tardis – it’s only got so many cupboards so that’s where compromise comes in.

Having the well organised kitchen of your dreams is a fine art but here are just a few ideas to make yours work better for you.

– Have all your heavy pots and pans right where you need them, adjacent to or underneath your cooker.

– Don’t mix food and non food together. Pots in one area, cereals in another. It helps create a more hygienic workspace.

– Whilst lining up cans and bottles in your cupboard may seem OTT, it allows you to see exactly what you have and helps avoid overbuying.

– If you’re not lucky enough to have a carousel or Le Mans unit in those awkward corner cupboards, try to recreate one with two plastic boxes, one in the corner and one in the front. Put seldom used pots and pans in there and it will make accessibility so much easier.

– If you are planning a kitchen from scratch, incorporate plenty of space for recycling so it’s not littering up your kitchen floor.

– If you’re struggling for space, use your walls – storage in between your wall and base units can eradicate the need for a utensils drawer.

– If you’re a cook, those spice racks with space for six spices isn’t going to cut it so make your herbs and spices accessible in a cupboard. If they are at low level use a marker to write on the top of the spice so you can see exactly what they are from above as well as at eye level.

– Shelves often adjust in modern kitchens so choose shelf heights that are suitable for your needs. If you can’t fit that oversize wine glass in the cupboard and it ends up in with the dog food, think about swapping the glass for a smaller one.

– If you don’t have space, don’t bulk buy. If your shelves are not high enough for a 750g of cereal, buy a 500g one instead. Don’t even think about decanting cereals into plastic containers unless you are super organised or live alone. It will just never happen.

– If you’re a cook that likes to have things to hand, bear in mind that a wall cupboard is not TOO far away from the worksurface and can help create a more streamlined space.

Finally, do a good declutter. Very few British kitchens have ample space. If you haven’t used that gravy separator for 5 years, it’s time to say goodbye!

The ecstasy of the purchase

Shopping quote

So I shared with you back in January that my two best friends were embarking on a “Buy nothing for a year campaign.” They’re kindly sharing their thoughts on the process with me as I have an insatiable interest in what makes people shop to excess and the effects of that excess on the home. So far so good they’re both sticking to it. Well done, girls. Let me tell you it’s nothing short of a miracle with these two!

So in 13 weeks, a very admirable absence of banned purchases, but there are a few notable developments. Katie is doing a textbook move by replacing clothes and shoes with things for the house. In the strict rules of the game that’s permitted, but it begs the question, is it a clothes fetish that’s the problem or actually the desire to buy ? Is it all about retail therapy regardless of the category? I’m not saying retail therapy doesn’t have its place – I fall for its charms on an all too regular basis. But does retail therapy actually make us feel better and how permanent is the high that accompanies it? What gives us that boost is an individual thing – it can be makeup, shoes, craft items, magazines, DVDs, underwear, candles and the list goes on. But does the purchase of things really lead us to sustainable happiness?

Mary has done some self diagnosis on what might have driven her desire to buy. She was born on Christmas Day and as well as the obvious factor of her birthday potentially being swallowed up by the merriment of Christmas, it has also meant that all her acquiring as a child was focused on one day. Could this contribute to an excessive desire to acquire? It’s an interesting thought. People often express pity for those with a birthday around Christmas time but why?

The rules of the game are providing laughs and debate

– can you accept a clothing gift from someone?

– when you need a uniform item is that allowed?

– if you get a gift voucher can you spend that on clothes?

This blog is designed to get you to think. I’m not a psychologist but work daily alongside people with psychological issues leading to excessive acquisition. I find people’s emotional drivers fascinating. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Decluttering – a New Year’s reality check!

It’s that time of year when the world and his wife are talking about decluttering. Newspapers, magazines and blogs are all trying to motivate us to live 2012 clutter free. Now, motivation is key to a successful declutter, of course, but alongside that you need education on how to tackle the job and a big dose of realism.

As a professional declutterer one of the key skills I need is honesty. I am honest with my clients and I will be honest with you.

So here’s the reality – if you have quite a lot of clutter in your home, it probably didn’t build up overnight; it took months, maybe even years, to get to such an unmanageable level so it shouldn’t be surprising that it will probably take more than just an hour or two to sort through and get your space back to the way you want it to be. There, I’ve said it – it’s not a “Ten minutes a Day for a Clutter Free home”, it’s not a trip out to buy a gorgeous storage unit from Ikea, it’s not about a labelling machine or post it notes. If you have a lot of clutter, it’s going to take time to sort it.

And time is not all you need. More than anything you need focus, determination, motivation and a huge amount of energy. Clearing clutter is emotionally and physically draining if there’s a lot of it.

The ideal scenario is of course to get a professional organiser to help you. What they will try to achieve is a balance between your vision and the amount of stuff you are willing to get rid of. If you have said you want a minimalist home with clear surfaces more akin to an edition of Ideal Home and you only have one carrier bag ready for the charity shop then it’s time for some questions to be asked. A professional will keep you focused, motivated and above all entertained throughout what can be a mind-numbingly tedious job at times.

If a professional is not an option for you try to bear in mind the following.

Having well meaning family to help can be, in my experience, a disaster waiting to happen. A daughter, a mother in law, even a husband is not impartial. If someone has been living with the fallout of your clutter they are likely to harbour a small amount of resentment and perhaps may struggle to understand the  psychology behind your attachment to your things.

If you are going to go it alone you need to be realistic about time. For me an averagely cluttered room takes between four and six hours to declutter, reorganise and the final vitally important part – discarding the stuff to charity, an eBay seller or the tip. And that is based on me working with a client at a reasonable pace.

Be prepared with bin bags, transport to take the stuff away and plan to avoid any distractions (kids, phones, facebook, loose women etc)

Remember it will get worse before it gets better. All that stuff in those drawers and cupboards is going to have to come out to get sorted before it can go back in.

Stay focused on your goal. Don’t move from room to room. If something belongs in the kitchen, for example, put it in a box labelled kitchen and move it later with other things that you find along the way.

I could go on and on but after what might appear to be a very negative blog, I want to end on a positive note. All that is standing between you and a home that you want to be in, where you can find what you need and above all can be proud of, is time, energy and focus. And we’ve all got a bit of that stored somewhere!

Good luck and if you have any questions, let me know.

The Clutter Fairy’s Guide to Precision Shopping

Now as the Clutter Fairy you would be forgiven for assuming I’m a frugal type who only buys what she needs and writes copious lists before heading out to the shops – not true, at all, if I’m honest. What I’m very good as is the decluttering bit. I advocate a one in one out policy and it’s never let me down yet.

So yes, I love to shop. I can give most people a run for their money in the wardrobe stakes and I get a lot of pleasure from a new outfit but with a two week holiday looming I could sense the clothes budget getting completely out of hand. Not for me, I’m (more than) sorted. It was my kids with protestations that nothing fits and they needed, well, just about everything possible before getting on that plane.

I have three kids – two teenagers and an eight year old. Well, my daughter at 12 isn’t technically a teenager but she does a formidable job of sounding and acting like one. My 15 year old son has spent the last two weeks saying he has nothing to wear because nothing fits him. In his defence, he has undergone the mother of all growth spurts – my little boy all of a sudden became a man what seemed like overnight. I am still trying to get over it now – very disconcerting as a mother but nevertheless his wardrobe is full of clothes, there must be something in there he can wear?

My daughter, like most 12 year olds follows a strict dress code of Hollister or Superdry (if I’m paying) or New Look (if she is) and to be fair she is at the inbetween stage where kids’ clothes are too young and adult’s clothes are too big.

My 8 year old son is easy to please – as long as he has clothes on his back he is happy. If you are a Mum fast approaching secondary school, all I can say is enjoy it while you can!

So that’s my kids in a nutshell and I am faced with two kids protesting that they have nothing to wear. Ok – time for a review in the form of a declutter. People ask all the time when the best time is to declutter a wardrobe. Just before any holiday is a great time as you can pack and declutter at the same time.

Decluttering kids’ wardrobes can be time consuming – brace yourself.  Just remember these few things.

Make sure they try everything on – they get bored easily and will try to save time by telling you that things fit when they don’t so if it’s not seen the light of day for a while make sure they try it on.

Even though it is REALLY annoying to see something with a tag still on, the chances are they won’t wear it again so cut your losses and donate it.

Just because something makes you all nostalgic doesn’t mean they will wear it. If it’s particularly special to you or them it can be kept in your sentimental box.

If you like darning -good for you, if you don’t -stick anything with a hole in the bag.

People are always keen to offload their clothes (and with them their guilt) to family/friends. In my day-to-day work I see bin bag after bin bag of clothes untouched that have been given to my clients by friends and family. Before donating make sure the person really wants them and certainly only give the absolute best. Childrens’ clothes tend to get very tired looking very quickly.

All the other clothes can go to Charity. Charity shops gladly welcome all clothes even if they are past their best as they can weigh them in and get cash for them even if they can’t sell them. I stick socks and everything in the bag – most charity shops are happy to sort through and pick out the best stuff although it is useful to check with your own charity shop first.

So the wardrobes were decluttered, I was fully conversant with the facts and the precision shopping could commence. Armed with a list of exactly what he was and was not allowed to buy, my son has been shopping all week. He is after all male and has definitely not got his mother’s genes when it comes to shopping. He’s happy as he has a new wardrobe and I’m happy because his wardrobe is full of exactly what he needs. As for my daughter, she was predictably exaggerating, has plenty and I have got away with two bikinis and a Superdry T-shirt. Job done!

Hands up if you would struggle to throw away Jo Malone packaging?

Well it’s Valentine’s Day, 23 years since I first got together with my lovely husband (not an adjective you will hear me use often when referring to my other half but hey love is in the air) and to celebrate the event he gave me a gorgeous box of Jo Malone perfume and a candle. Perfect choice – well and truly spoiled – and a very happy wife.

Rather than try to describe the excitement with which I accepted my gift, I will let the brilliant marketeers at Jo Malone do it themselves. “Love is a Gift. The Art of Gift Giving. Define a moment to remember. The distinctive cream bag. The pristine box. The black, grosgrain ribbon. The tissue paper misted with fragrance. Before you even lift the lid, the Jo Malone experience is special.” Yes, it is, thankyou, Steve and thankyou, Jo Malone.

So I’m sold, my husband has his brownie points, I smell gorgeous, my candle has pride of place and it’s back to reality. Time to tidy up – I do my normal groundhog day stuff. Yes, even for the Clutter Fairy who gets a kick out of tidiness, that morning routine is dull, dull, dull (but good when it’s done!). I make the beds, open the blinds, hang clothes up, pick up undies, put stuff in the laundry basket, toothbrushes back on their container etc etc etc and then I find my empty Jo Malone packaging. What’s a girl to do?

It is just so gorgeous, you really don’t want to get rid of it so you try to come up with reasons to keep it.

You could reuse the bag for someone else’s gift – well, yes but then they would think they were getting Jo Malone and understandably might be a tad disappointed if they open the box to find a Shower Gel from Tesco. And if you actually bought them some Jo Malone you would get the full gift experience as described above and have no need for a bag.

You could use the bag for day to day shopping. You could but might look a bit daft cramming baked beans into a gift bag or a bit posh sending your son’s packed lunch in in a Jo Malone bag.

And what about the box? Same applies. Lovely box but we need to be managing expectations.

The ribbon? If and only if you are meticulous in keeping all your gift stuff together and are genuinely creative when  wrapping a gift for someone is that ever going to be useful.

The tissue paper, it’s a bit crumpled already but could be recycled for gift wrapping if you fall into the category above.

The leaflets –  everything is online should you need a full resumee of scents and as you’ve just had a whole 100ml bottle, it might be a while.

So ask yourself this – why are you keeping the packaging?

It might come in useful – now here I might have a point. That lovely box is sturdy and could definitely be used to store something in but unless I can think of something immediately it’s going to become clutter.

You feel so guilty -it cost alot to produce and alot to buy- yes it did but the gift is the perfume or candle and not the packaging. If anything, Jo Malone should be cutting down on the amount of packaging but to be fair everything is recyclable so it can be reused if disposed of appropriately.

Is it for show? You’ve got your Jo Malone and you want to make sure people know it.  (Ooh, contentious!)

Is it laziness? – you just don’t ever get around to getting rid of stuff like that.

There are lots of reasons why you might still have that packaging and as the home owner it is absolutely your call whether or not you want to keep it. My job as the Clutter Fairy is to make you ask yourself why. You might think it’s a bit of  a daft thing to blog about,  but this kind of clutter – empty shoe boxes, carrier bags, leaflets, ribbons is prevalent in almost every home I visit and it has a big habit of multiplying until one day it becomes unbearable.

Do yourself a favour and put it in your recycling bin. You will never give it a second thought.

One way to make an impact on your clutter in less than an hour.

Pride of place in lots and lots of lounges up and down the country are shelf upon shelf of videos. Barney,  Bagpuss, Loveboat, Jane Fonda, Ivor the Engine, -there they are in all their glory reminding us of a bygone era. The one thing that isn’t there is something to play them on.  And how many can you get on a shelf ? Ten maybe or fifteen if you’re lucky because they are huge, cumbersome things. They were a brilliant thing to have (in the eighties and nineties) but now in the teenies (?!) they are defunkt having been replaced by their size zero counterparts, DVDs (and they won’t be long for this life either.)

It’s hard, I know, to get rid of  a collection of things that has a) cost alot of money b) brought the family alot of pleasure and c) has sentiment attached to it but nevertheless they should go, they really should – you need to try and overcome the obstacles of cost, usefulness and sentiment. So look at and focus on the positives.  Yes, they did give your family  pleasure and you do look at some of them and go “aah” so you can safely say that in most cases you have had your ten pounds’ worth out of them. If you’re still struggling to get out the black bin liner just think about the space. You will free up lots and lots of space. Most homes also have more than one CD and DVD rack – maybe you will be able to amalgamate them into just one now that you have those free shelves.

A word of warning, charity shops will be unlikely to want your videos. Foreign charities might so go down that avenue. And beware of the blank video cassette. It may just have a wedding, birth or graduation on it so check carefully!

So, if you have a free hour in the next couple of days, do yourself and your home a favour and get rid of some videos. You know you want to!