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.

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A Clutter Fairy – what exactly is that?

As I was looking around at stuff I wrote just after I set up the business 5 years ago, I came across this and I’m happy to say, absolutely nothing has changed (except the age of my kids!)

Hi, I’m Lesley Spellman, wife, daughter, friend and mum to three kids 15, 12 and 8. For a lot of years I spent my time at home raising my lovely family and trying to create a happy place to live and was more than content. Then, I woke up one morning and thought maybe the time had come to do something a bit different. Back to work? Hmmm? No Friday coffee, child care in the school holidays, getting bossed around – maybe not. So I then moved swiftly onto the option of setting up my own business. Advice from friends was always to do something I was passionate about. In the passion stakes my home has always been high on the list – it needs to be welcoming to me as well as others, it needs to be functional and it’s a bonus if it is beautiful. I love being with people, talking to them, finding out about what makes them tick, and hopefully in some cases helping them. Oh and I’ve always been a control freak…

With my passions in mind and my controlling nature in check, I set up my professional organising business, The Clutter Fairy. It’s the perfect name for my business– it encompasses to a tee what I aim to do for people – whilst providing a constant source of amusement to those who know me well. Lesley Spellman and Fairy- not a likely combination!

Most people have clutter in some shape or form – it’s hard to juggle all the demands made on women in twenty-first century life– but wouldn’t it be lovely to have someone wave a magic wand and make it all go away? But what takes people from moaning at the school gate about their clutter to picking up the phone and calling me? It’s all about the extent to which it is getting them down.

Every client has a different need – at one end of the scale I have clients who want to declutter, have a good idea of what needs to go and just want someone to keep them on track and ensure the job is done thoroughly. By booking an appointment, it reaches the top of their to do list and the job gets done. At the other end of the scale, I have clients who are completely overwhelmed, often to a point of depression, have no inkling of how, why, when or where to get started and are desperate to make a change. They have read all the books, watched the TV programmes, bought the storage solutions but are still knee deep in the stuff of life. That’s when they start searching for an alternative and hopefully find The Clutter Fairy.

So what does The Clutter Fairy do? Well, first and foremost it’s all about trust. By inviting a declutterer into your home you are laying your whole life out to bare. I visit the client’s home, we chat about how the clutter came about, we have a look at each room in the house, see if any of them work well, assess which are the main areas of concern and then chat about how the job can be done and how long it is likely to take. By the end of the initial consultation, the trust is established.

Once we get started together, we work methodically through each room until it’s complete. I challenge items I feel may be questionable. If you don’t use it often, need it sometimes or love it all the time, it’s up for question. But ultimately all decisions about what stays and what goes are not mine to make. We sort things into categories for rehoming – different room, charity shop, family or friends, ebay, recycling. Very little ends up in landfill. And the key to decluttering success is getting the stuff out of the house on that day.

Once a room is clutter free, it’s time to start organising things into a system that works with your lifestyle. If you have five school age kids and work full time, your needs are going to be very different to a retired couple or a student. While we are working together we talk a lot about habits, changing them if necessary and chat about some strategies that will make things easier to manage long term.

I love my job. I love the difference that I can make to someone in as little as a few hours. As trite as it may sound, with every bin liner that finds its way out of the front door, I can see a weight being gradually lifted from that person’s shoulders. Decluttering is not rocket science – it’s a straightforward process of change but sometimes you just need a helping hand.

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!

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.

A dragon loves The Clutter Fairy!

Last Sunday was a very lazy day after a heavy 50th birthday party on Saturday night – say no more. One of those comatose days catching up with Saturday night’s X factor, Xtra factor and Big Brother and not much else. At about 5 o’clock I briefly moved off the sofa to check my Twitter and saw lots of posts about #sbs. Now, for those of you not too familiar with Twitter, every Sunday Theo Paphitis from Dragon’s Den runs a competition where small businesses all over the country can tweet him with a quick summary of their business. Out of the hundreds of entries he gets he chooses 6 as his winners. So, I tweeted him with

@TheoPaphitis If you ‘re overwhelmed by ‘stuff’ in your home, The Clutter Fairy helps emotionally and practically turn chaos to calm #sbs

and – guess what – I won!! Theo Paphitis retweeted my business tweet to all of his 175,000 people and lots of those 175,000 people saw it. At the time I won I was back on the sofa watching Sunday night’s X factor when my phone started going mad with tweets, emails and texts from well wishers. I had to leave Louis Walsh (not a bad thing – what was he thinking?) and start tweeting. Well, what an amazing evening! To get so many people congratulating me on my win, being so hugely complimentary about the service I offer and raving about my website was a real boost. But more than anything, to have someone like Theo Paphitis see the value and potential of  a small but ambitious business like mine was comforting and has given me the drive to take things to the next level.

I love the service I offer my clients and the huge impact it inevitably has on their lives. The difficulty I have is getting word out there to let people know that The Clutter Fairy and other businesses like it exist. So big thanks to @theopaphitis and tweeters everywhere for helping put decluttering on the map.

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.