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.

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!

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.