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Headshot of APDO member Diana Spellman of Serenly Sorted

A messy home is a stressy home

In this post, organiser Diana Spellman, Founder of Serenely Sorted, shares the results of her fascinating research into the connection between clutter and stress.

“Distracted.  Annoyed.  Anxious. Unhappy.  Can’t relax.  Irritated.  Stressful”

These are just some of the feelings evoked by mess stress.

Back in the Summer of 2019, my mess stress had reached a point where I knew something had to change.  I resented all the time I was spending tidying at the weekends.  Because nothing ever seemed to change – the house would be back to ‘mess town’ in what seemed like minutes.

This mess stress really affected me.  I worked from home, so I couldn’t get away from it, either because I could see it while I worked, or the nagging voice in my head was reminding me of all the piles I needed to sort.  Because I had a lot of piles!  I sometimes felt better if I merged several piles into one mega pile, but the problem was just getting bigger.

It may not affect you, or your clients, in an obvious way as it did me.  It may be just a niggle, or something you just can’t put your finger on, but it stops you being able to relax fully at home – the place that should be our haven.

APDO member Diana Spellman of Serenely Sorted organising a kitchen cupboard

Mess stress affects us all

My recent Kantar survey* found that the feelings I was having back then are not at all uncommon.  In fact, 82% of us have experienced ‘mess stress’ at some point in our lives, with nearly half (44%) at least weekly.  This figure is higher amongst women, and starkly, 98% of parents of young children have experienced mess stress, with 71% experiencing it at least weekly.  Even 72% of those who define themselves as ‘naturally tidy’ had experienced mess stress. Mess stress gets to us all.

“It makes me feel anxious and I can never rest as I am always thinking I need to tidy my home – never feel content fully” Male, 35-44

“It distracts me, I don’t feel happy at all when the house is messy” Female, 35-44

“I am bothered by the mess and even if I do not think actively about it at the time, my mood is low.” Male, 18-24

The survey also explored the impact of letting our mess get the better of us, and reveals that, inevitably perhaps, 62% of people do not love their homes as much as they did when they moved in, revealing that our day-to-day habits were leading us to not fully appreciate our homes as our havens.

Low take up of well-known systems: are the TV shows causing us to turn off?

Given that mess stress is pervasive, are we actually doing anything about it, or are we just accepting it as part of ‘our lot’?  From the research, it seems not many of us are using the well-known systems we see on TV.  Is this because of overwhelm as a response to Insta perfect homes and the expectations we have of such solutions?

Graph showing awareness and use of various organising methods

Thankfully, despite low uptake of the TV-worthy systems, there is high demand for practical solutions, with 76% saying that they are either very or somewhat likely to take up a realistic solution that isn’t intimidating and could be sustained over time.

Graph showing the likelihood of adopting realistic home organisation methods

With so many homes across the UK experiencing mess stress, the challenge for APDO Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers and its members is to communicate what’s available, and how we professional organisers  support our clients with practical, sustainable approaches

Back in the Summer of 2019, I couldn’t find exactly that route, so I solved both my mess stress and reduced/eliminated the dreaded tidying by building my own practical, realistic and sustainable system. Initially just for myself, I now teach people the Serenely Sorted System via online programmes and install it in people’s homes through my business Serenely Sorted, enabling people to remove the daily debris from the surfaces in their homes and address the piles for the long term.  The system utilises my corporate skills of system and process improvement, involves methods through which people can become more aware of how their behaviour creates mess, and techniques to break the mess/tidy loop they are in – and help them get tidy in less time than ever before.

With over 59% of households spending more than 30 minutes per day tidying, there is huge scope for helping people reduce and eliminate some of this drudgery by finding better ways of tidying.  Fascinatingly, those who claim to be naturally tidy are spending the most time actually tidying (63% spending more than 30 minutes), so it’s reassuring to the rest of us that perhaps the ‘naturally tidy’ image portrayed is just that – an image – and in fact the majority of us are not in control of our homes!

* Source: Nationally representative survey of 250 respondents conducted by Kantar on behalf of Serenely Sorted

If Diana’s article has prompted you to get some help with your own mess stress, you can find your local APDO professional organiser on our Find An Organiser database.

an open diary on a desk with piles of notebooks

Decluttering our lives as we emerge from lockdown

Karen Eyre-White of time management business Go Do gives her perspective on how we can declutter our lives after a challenging year.

When we think of decluttering, we typically think of physical things and reclaiming the spaces in our homes to create a greater sense of calm and order. But it’s also possible to declutter our lives; to reclaim our time and remove from our schedule those things which aren’t serving us anymore.

This can be hard to do. We have long-standing commitments in our diaries, we go to the same places and see the same people we’ve always seen, and our habits are deeply ingrained.

Or at least that used to be true.

The last year has turned everything on its head. The COVID lockdown measures have forced many unwelcome changes in our lives – our movement has been restricted, we’ve been isolated from friends and family and unable to do many of the things we love.

But as we emerge from our third COVID lockdown, how can we make use of what has changed over the last year to take stock of how we want to spend our time? How can we declutter what we don’t need and bring in new ways of spending time which make us happier?

Here are a few ideas and questions to ask ourselves over the coming months.

Socialising

Lockdown and the Rule of Six has meant our social lives have been dramatically transformed over the last year. We’re not meeting up with friends, going out for dinner or drinks, or taking group holidays.

As we’re gradually allowed to do these things again, it’s an opportunity to reflect on the last year and decide what you want to prioritise.

Have you enjoyed spending more time at home with those closest to you? Has it been a relief not to try to have a conversation in a loud restaurant or bar? Have you kept in touch virtually with a smaller group of close friends, and not missed others as much as you expected to?

Think about what this means for how you could rebuild your social life post-lockdown.

people socialising around a table full of coffee cups and cake

Activities and commitments

Whether it’s a group exercise class, a book club or being involved in a local community group, over the last year we’ve all spent less time on commitments outside of the home. We can’t go to group classes and activities, so we’ve become more home-based. Perhaps you’ve taken up gardening or started sewing your own clothes. Maybe you’ve connected with like-minded people virtually in a way you haven’t before.

When we’re forced to stop commitments, it can be an opportunity to reflect and take stock.

Did you feel ‘off the hook’ of saying yes to everything? Have you been happier with fewer commitments in your diary?

What activities are you raring to get back to? Focus on bringing those back in to your life first.

Commuting

For many, 23 March 2021 marked one year of working from home.

If that was you, how have you spent the time you used to spend commuting? Maybe you’ve cultivated an exercise habit, perhaps you’re reading more, or are able to spend more quality time with your children. Or, conversely, maybe you’ve realised that your commute was vital decompressing time between work and home and you’ve missed that clear boundary.

How will your job change as lockdown eases? Are you being given the option to work from home more, or perhaps even permanently? Would that be a positive or negative thing for you?

We don’t always have control over how and where we work but thinking these things through in advance will put you in the best possible position if an opportunity arises.

clothes on a shop rail

Shopping

Remember last spring, when supermarkets were under huge pressure and you couldn’t get a delivery slot for love nor money? Now, online shopping and food deliveries are the norm. We aren’t spending our Saturdays at the local retail park or town centre, or in the supermarket aisles, and we’re doing a huge proportion of our shopping online.

Of course, this isn’t simply a time saver: researching purchases online takes time and returning items if they’re not suitable can often mean time spent queuing at the post office.

How have you found it? Has online food shopping been easier than you expected? Have you found it frustrating or liberating to shop for clothes online?

Our shopping habits can feel like a small part of our lives, but they can have a significant impact on how we spend our time day-to-day. Take a few moments to think intentionally about how you’ll shop as retail re-opens.

Our lives have changed dramatically over the last year. We can create something positive out of it by thinking through how we want to spend our time as lockdown eases.

We don’t have to resume old ways of doing things just because that’s what we used to do. We can, instead, seize the opportunity to reclaim our time and use what we’ve learned over the last year to create a happier and more fulfilled life.

 

A Christmas teddy bear toy

HO HO NO! It’s Christmas!

It’s Christmas! Carole Reed of HappySort has been revising Christmas plans… and shares her advice on keeping the clutter down this festive season.

So, it looks as though Christmas is back on!

If you are anything like me, you won’t even have thought about it yet, let alone started planning for it. When Christmas plans were all up in the air, it was easy to ignore it or justify your lack of action “because we just don’t know what’s happening.”  Like many others, I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes but I did secretly hope for a quieter and simpler celebration this year. I love seeing the family but maybe not all at once, and not at the end of the most frenetic month of the year.

As leaked stories made the press, it dawned on me that Christmas WAS probably back on… but I really didn’t feel ready. It’s not just the visitors, or the food preparation, it’s the stuff! After clearing out piles of junk from the garage, the cupboards and the bedrooms during lockdown (and there still being suspiciously little space!), I don’t want to fill them all back up again with things that I neither need nor want.

Have a pre-Christmas sort out

A lot of people see January as a time for having a clear out, AFTER the avalanche of stuff has arrived and found its way into wardrobes, under beds and into cupboards. I say yes, do have a mini sort then, but the main clear out should be in early December (or any time before Christmas).

If you have children, it is likely that they are going to have a huge number of presents arriving through the door. Maybe they will get even more than usual this year just because 2020 has been such a difficult year.

Lockdowns, travel restrictions and shielding have meant that some families have been separated for nine months or more. Even if you decide that you are not going to go overboard this year, you can bet that the grandparents probably will! If you know it’s a lost cause asking them to buy less (or smaller – many younger children already have enormous bulky toys), then you will need to make space in your home and it really is worth doing this now.

Children outgrow the bigger bulky toys quite quickly. That Playmobile fire station with all the broken fire engines and tiny pieces that sits in a box under the stairs? Well, it may have cost £100, which is why you find it difficult to part with it, but it needs to go. And the Barbie house too. And the whole shelf of Mr Men books (and, yes, I know you loved them when you were a child), the Thomas the Tank Engine DVDs, the Scalextric set with the broken track, the Orchard Toy games and the over-sized stuffed teddies that you never know where to put.

A child playing with a toy buggy next to a Christmas tree

Engage your children in the sort out

I’m not suggesting that you get rid of everything, just things that are damaged or genuinely no longer played with. If you are low on energy or time, it may be easier to do this by yourself or you can help your child to make decisions about their possessions. Depending on the age of the child you can explain that you just won’t have room for all the new Christmas presents – which should be an incentive! You can talk about your child’s age and how grown up they are getting (children love this, adults not so much) to justify getting rid of more babyish things.

I heard some great ideas on a podcast recently (“A Slob Comes Clean”). One suggestion was that Santa leaves behind a sack which needs to be filled with old toys to give to less fortunate children. The Elf on the Shelf gets involved too, only performing tricks if old toys are left out for him to take away. Older children could be encouraged to get money for items sold on their behalf or they may just see the logic in what you are saying about having a clear out.

 Avoiding unwanted presents

If you speak to your child(ren) about what they want for Christmas you can then tell family members what to get for them. It can be embarrassing when a child opens a present in front of the giver and it’s not something that they like because kids are not good at hiding their true feelings.

Perhaps sit down with your children and do Google searches together. This can be as basic as ‘presents for 13-year-old boys’. If you run out of ideas, perhaps agree with them that vouchers or experiences are good options and, better still, they take up no space at all!

A Christmas card with the message "Collect moments not things" with Christmas decorations on a table

Another method is to draw up a list of gift ideas over the year. My son would never tell me in December that he wanted khaki trousers, but he did come home from his friend’s party in the summer telling me all about the camouflage items his friend had got and asked if he could have some too.

I also buy things over the year too as this minimises last minute panics. If you do this too, remember to check the cupboard/drawer in which you have hidden things so that you know what you have already bought and you don’t duplicate anything. There’s been many a year when I’ve checked the stash a couple of days before Christmas and realized I had more than I thought in there or that there were some perfectly good items I’d kept for re-gifting to family, but had forgotten about and so had bought them something else. The stash in the present cupboard then gets bigger. It used to be a shelf in the cupboard but now it’s the whole cupboard!

Think about a present embargo

Why not have a chat with family members about whether or not you actually buy each other presents anymore? Do you really want another jokey apron or Christmas jumper? Does your husband need another pair of comedy socks or another mug? I did this with my sisters recently and we all agreed to carry on buying for each other but we don’t buy anything for the husbands. Similarly, we have stopped exchanging gifts with my brother and sister-in-law in New York and this year we are not buying gifts for my husband’s brother and his wife, who have three children. As we have three children too, it all gets too expensive and stressful trying to come up with original ideas.

A subtle Christmas Day cull

When my children have received age inappropriate gifts (say Tinkerbell pyjamas for a ten-year-old) or multiple Lego sets, I quietly whisk them to one side to put in the present cupboard. If you don’t do it as you go along, they will open the boxes or rip off labels so that things can’t be re-gifted or given to charity.

No pressure intended!

This article is not intended to put more pressure on people to prepare for what is already a hugely stressful event. It is to point out that with a targeted focus on toys and presents, you can make space and/or control what will be coming into your home. This will mean less clutter and less stress. If you feel that it is already too late for this year, then bear these ideas in mind for another year.

If Carole’s advice has inspired you to have a pre-Christmas declutter, you can find your nearest APDO professional organisers in our Find An Organiser database.

 

 

a family gatherered around a cardboard box marked "donations"

Organising your home: Getting other householders on board

“It’s a case of the old, ‘You can lead a horse to water…’ problem!” says Amanda Manson of Orderly Office and Home.

Encouraging other household members to declutter and organise alongside you, or for themselves, can be a real challenge but help is at hand from our members who have some suggestions to help get everyone on board.

Follow my lead

Laura Gutowski of Everything In Its Space says, “The person who has committed to getting more organised needs to start with their own things”. Lynda Wylie of Tidy Rooms agrees. “Lead by example. When other people in the household see and experience first-hand the difference decluttering and organising makes to a family member, they often become interested in what the individual is doing, sparking positive conversations and feedback”. Laura continues, “They’ll notice how much happier and more relaxed the person doing the organising has become, thus opening themselves up to giving it a go”. Lynda is convinced this gentle, patient approach can be a real recipe for change.

For those of us with more people than usual working in our home, Karen Eyre-White of Go Do says, “If you’re finding it stressful that your partner or other family member isn’t keeping a good work schedule, or setting good boundaries when working from home, find small ways to show them what you’re doing. For example, pin your schedule to the fridge, or cover up your work area at the weekend. They’ll soon start wondering what it’s all about and you’ll find them asking you questions, or simply following your lead”.

A comfortable sofa in an organised room setting

Think of others

Involving others in your decluttering journey is a key part of success.  Laura Williams of OrganisedWell explains further: “Think about the reasons, benefits and vision for the space and really engage all parties in these. Also understand any concerns others might have and talk about boundaries. It may be necessary to leave items or areas that family members aren’t comfortable with organising until they’ve seen the results elsewhere and can follow the great example their family members have set”.

Decluttering coach Suzy Kell, who specialises in helping couples to work on their organising together, agrees. “After organising my own possessions, I waded into joint ownership territory and I hit a wall”, she remembers. “But then I realised it was unfair to force conversations and decisions on my husband without warning”. It was only when Suzy’s husband watched the documentary ‘Minimalism: a film about the important things’ about a year later that he was ready to have those conversations with her – and by that time he was all in! “We then did a mega clear out and we started changing our relationship with belongings forever”, Suzy recalls. “Together we were unstoppable!”

A newly renovated white kitchen

Involve young people

Sian Winslade of Inspired Living Cheshire reminds us that children and young people need a positive role model to follow so they can develop habits they’ll take with them into adulthood. “My youngest daughter is 12 and is forever making changes to her bedroom and her drawers. She is aware that in order to keep her tiny room neat, everything needs a place. I am so proud of her.  Since I started organising professionally, she could see that the changes made in our own home were hugely beneficial to a smooth-running household. Getting her involved with tasks such as with making labels has made all the difference”.

Shelly Moss of Kewniek agrees. “With children and young people it’s important to get their buy-in from the start. Explain what you are doing and how they can help. For example, you might explain how somebody less fortunate would love to have some of their special toys”.

A pile of children's books

Keep talking

The presence of a professional organiser in your home can often help promote conversation where it might previously have been a difficult topic to broach. Amanda suggests highlighting the discretion of a professional organising service, emphasising the fact that they will never touch someone’s stuff without their permission. She says, “Speak to them and explain what is causing you an issue and why. Explain how things could change with their support and perhaps how much involvement, if any, you expect from them. Focus on the positive outcomes as a result and why this is important”.

Focus on the benefits

There are fantastic benefits to getting everyone in your household on board so keeping these in mind will encourage you to keep going. Not only can being organised reduce arguments over lost things or increased spending on duplicates that can’t be found, it can get everyone working together on a shared goal. Living in a more organised space can really ease the pressure on family dynamics, reducing stress and giving everyone more time with each other. Tidying and cleaning routines become easier to manage as a team, so it helps to share the load with everyone in your household.

If this post has encouraged you to talk to your family about organising your home, why not show them Monday’s post on getting started on your organising project to kick off the conversation. 

pile of black and white photos

9 easy steps for organising printed photographs

Do you have drawers, boxes or even an attic full of printed photos? Can you imagine having them organised and digitised, ready to share with family and friends via the internet or on memory sticks which you can hand down to future generations? Jo Jacob of Benella Home Organisation takes us through her 9 easy steps for organising printed photographs.

Organising your printed photographs

It is often said that in the event of a fire most people would save their pets and their photographs because both are irreplaceable, regardless of how much insurance they have. Our lives are operating at a slower pace post lockdown, so this is a great time to tackle the job of sorting out your printed photographs and putting them in a shareable format.

a photo scanner, laptop and box of photos on a desk

Here are some simple steps to help you get the job done:

  1. Clear a dining table or large flat surface ready for sorting.
  2. Gather all your photographs together, including those in albums and envelopes. Be careful when taking photographs out of albums, especially if they are stuck down. You can use dental floss to slide gently between the back of the photograph and the surface of the album or you can use a hairdryer to soften the glue.
  3. When you’ve collected everything together, you are ready for the first stage of sorting. You will need to have a binbag or shredder to hand for the photographs you are getting rid of and then take a deep breath, you can do this! Go through the photographs and dispose of any which are:
    • Duplicates
    • Blurred
    • Have a finger across the lens
    • Showing people you can’t identify
    • Multiples of the same scene
    • Featuring a location you don’t recognise
  4. You are now ready for the second stage of sorting, and can follow this basic system:
    • “A” Photos: Create a pile of photographs you love and want to display or put in albums
    • “B” Photos: Make a second pile of photographs that you don’t necessarily want to put into albums or out on display but which you feel you should back-up
  5. Now go back through your A and B piles. Working at a table, and using Post-its to jot down your notes, start to put the photographs into date or story order. Ascertaining the date of an image can sometimes be difficult, so take note of the size and age of the people in the photograph and look for clues as to when it might have been taken. I often play detective and use a magnifying glass to count candles on a birthday cake or the printing on celebratory balloons.
  6. Once you have your photographs sorted and thinned out you need to scan them. You can do this yourself using a scanner or an iPhone or, if you have a lot of photographs, you can use a scanning company or an individual who offers this service. This is quite cost effective as scans work out at about 10p per photo.
    a box of organised photos and laptop on a desk
  7. Now it’s time to back up all your scans. You can use iCloud, Dropbox, other sharing websites or memory sticks to store and share these precious memories.
  8. It is important to label the photographs on your computer so people will know what they are. This is called adding metadata.
  9. Themes such as school trips, birthdays, holidays, family celebrations work well if you are making a photobook as a gift or for your own collection because they tell a story.

I hope you find these tips useful and that you are able to get going with sorting out your collection of physical photographs.

If this post has got you thinking about organising your precious photo collection or memorabilia, you can find an APDO-registered photo organiser here.

APDO member Lynda Wylie's organised cat

3 simple tips for organising your pet supplies

She’s a relatively new pet owner, but Lynda Wylie of Tidy Rooms in Surrey has already acquired a substantial amount of stuff for her cat! Of course, there’s the essential food and medicine supplies, but there’s also a growing stash of irresistible soft toys, tasty treats and disagreeable (to her cat) grooming brushes. It’s a whole new world of consuming, one which brings with it a new organising challenge.

If you find yourself in a similar situation with your pampered pet, then Lynda has 3 tips to help you keep your supplies accessible and organised for when you need them most.

1 Sort and group similar supplies together

Gather all your pet supplies from around the house and group them into piles of the same category, spreading them out so you can see exactly what you’ve got. You may be surprised by duplicates and long forgotten items. Assess each pile and decide what to keep and what is no longer needed.

Remember to sort your pet papers too. Group everything together – insurance, pet plans and certificates. You might store them in a digital file or a paper one, but the key is to have everything in one place.

2 Use appropriate storage containers

Now you’re ready to decide how to store your keepers. There is a wealth of storage products available, but before you buy new, you may find you can re-purpose items from around your home.

three lablled cereal containers used to store pet food

These cereal containers are perfect for air tight storage of dried pet food and are from IKEA

Clear, plastic storage is a hygienic way to store pet food, medicines and litter. Secure clip lids are useful for stacking and keeping out hungry mouths and little hands. Use big, clear labels even though you can see what’s inside. A small container in each room can also be useful for keeping essential items to hand such as grooming brushes for those opportune moments.

a basket of pet toys

This wicker basket started out as a Christmas hamper but is now used to store toys

A medicine box is a must for your pet’s comfort and your peace of mind. Where would you look for it if you needed it in a hurry? Mell Coleman, a pedigree pet breeder says, “It’s especially important at this time of the year to include allergy relief for stings and bites, as well as flea drops, silver emergency blanket, gauze, syringes, thermometer, antiseptic cream and wound powder”.

an organised and labelled pet medicine box

3 Create zones for specific supplies

Store your supplies where you use them or would look for them if you needed them.

If you have a dog, walking supplies are ideal near your front door so you can quickly grab them on your way out and put them back easily on your return. Use drawer dividers such as empty shoe boxes to group similar items together so your supplies don’t get mixed up together. Fold and stand your pet jackets so you can see them clearly.

an organised drawer of folded pet jackets and treats

A litter zone away from inquisitive eyes with scented nappy sacks nearby for scooping daily poop is another absolute must!

Finally, a feeding station away from busy footfall areas will help your pet relax at meal times – you might even like to set up a treat station for quick behaviour rewards. A dedicated pet cupboard or shelf will also help you keep track of what you have in stock so you don’t run out or over shop.

So when you next feed your pet, why not scan your supplies and see whether any of these tips help you and your furry family friends get organised together.

Thank you to Di Kelly of Simply Organised Home

APDO member Di Kelly's organised dog

Karen Powell The Organising Lady

APDO member Karen Powell's organised dog

and pedigree pet breeder Mell Coleman

Mell Coleman pedigree pet breeder with her prize winningcat

and their furry friends for contributing to Lynda’s post.

APDO member Lynda Wylie's organised cat

You can find your nearest APDO-registered professional organiser here.

 

Click here to read more blog posts from APDO

Foliage in a glass jar signifying recycling and environment

Decluttering when someone has died

Sentimental items are without a doubt the most difficult things to deal with when decluttering. Emotions around objects can be incredibly strong, as we link feelings and memories to physical objects and this is especially true when someone has passed away. In this post, Zoe Berry of Life/Edit gives her advice on decluttering a lifetime of possessions after someone dies.

sentimental flowers

Decluttering when someone has died: How to deal with a lifetime of possessions

Recently I have worked with two clients for whom this is a huge issue: they are responsible for decluttering after someone has died, and they find themselves hanging on to far too much stuff because of an almost paralysing inability to make decisions on what to do with it all. There are varied reasons for this: in these particular cases, the sheer volume of it all was overwhelming. Where do you start with a whole house or the contents of someone’s entire life that’s ended up in boxes in your loft? But perhaps greater than this is the associated guilt. When someone has died it can be so hard to part with their belongings: knowing how hard the person worked for them, knowing what the items meant to the person, worrying that you are being disloyal or disrespectful by simply ‘getting rid’ of them, or not knowing who to give them to or where they should go if you do want to part with them. This post explores how you can respectfully and thoughtfully keep someone’s memory alive without having to be the keeper of all of their belongings.

First: ask for help

This is going to be hard. You probably can’t do it on your own, so allow the people who are offering help to work through it with you. Or if this isn’t an option, look up a professional declutterer here: https://www.apdo.co.uk/find-an-organiser/. We are trained to help you, and can help to guide you through the process.

Start with the ‘least difficult’

In the case of post-bereavement decluttering, there probably isn’t an ‘easy’ place to start, but whatever you do, don’t start with the most emotional things. You’ll know what these are. For some people it’s about their mum’s clothes, for some it’s their husband’s precious collection of books which were his pride and joy. For some people it’s about something that may seem entirely random but you will know what is going to be the most difficult for you. Leave that until the end.

Do I really want to keep this?

Look at the item and ask yourself: what precisely am I sentimental about? Chances are, it’s not the object itself but its association with a person, place, or time. You will retain that memory without a physical object to remind you. However if you look at the item and love it, then it’s not clutter.

pile of photographs letters and memories

Let go of guilt

Often people keep items not out of love or nostalgia, but guilt. It could be because it feels ‘bad’ to get rid of something, or it could be because you had a difficult relationship with the person who has died and you’re subconsciously trying to make it better. Allow yourself to realise that your complex relationship with your aunty will not be fixed if you keep hold of her hideous set of figurines now that she has passed away.

Take a photograph

If you have your grandparents’ table and chairs and you know you can’t keep them and won’t use them, take a photo of them as part of the process of letting them go. Use the same logic as you do with other parts of your decluttering life (you wouldn’t keep all your kids’ toys for example) and apply it to the post-bereavement decluttering.

Pass it on

Do some quality research before passing your items to charity. Some charities only take specific things (for example, no electrical goods) and you don’t want to be turned away after the difficult and emotional process of sorting through, loading your car and driving to the charity shop. Recently I donated a whole lifetime’s worth of clothes which had belonged to a client’s mum. Going through these clothes was so difficult for my client, she spent hours in tears remembering the stories that went with them: where her mum wore them and how they summed her up. I made sure these clothes went to a charity shop local to me which specialises in vintage clothing. For this client, the idea that the next generation of vintage-loving young women would be soon wearing them filled her with joy and pride.

Foliage in a glass jar signifying recycling and environment

Family

You may not want something or have room for it, but you can always offer it to others in the family. Remember to check with them first before packing an object off to somewhere outside the family.

Upcycle

To hold onto your connection with something, create something new that retains its sentimental value. An example of this recently was an antique chair belonging to a client’s beloved great aunty. I encouraged her to upcycle it so it fitted more in to her house décor and she covered it with some beautiful fabric bringing it right up to date whilst still retaining the nod to her family member.

Dealing with collections

It’s very difficult when dealing with the possessions of an avid collector. Your dad may have loved his thousands of model cars, your brother loved his rooms full of books, but it doesn’t mean you have to absorb them into your home. Choosing one or two keepsake items to represent a collection, person or era can allow you to let the rest go.

Memory Box

Just as you’d keep a memory box for your children with their precious school drawings, first shoes and other sentimental items, you can also do this for someone who has died. It doesn’t matter how off-the-wall these things are – if an empty margarine tub makes you chuckle thinking about your gran, then pop it in the box. This is a good way to preserve memories without taking up too much space. It also keeps the items all together, so you can choose when you want to look at them, particularly if grief is still very raw.

Most of all be kind to yourself. Take time, acknowledge that this is one of the hardest things to do, accept help and reward yourself when you make progress.

Toys on the floor on a background at wall

How to keep an organised home when you have small children

Some of the most common questions that professional organisers get asked are around how to keep on top of clutter and keep a semblance of an organised home when you have small children. In this post, Rebecca Caution of Conscious Space Professional Organising shares her top tips on how, with a little bit of effort, it really is possible to do so.

Think like a Montessori educator

When it comes to maintaining an organised home with small children as inhabitants, take inspiration from the Montessori approach. Montessori is a method of education based on self-directed activity, hands-on learning and collaborative play. In Montessori nurseries and schools, children make choices in their own learning, whilst staff and classroom set-up guide the process, developing independence and encouraging creativity from a young age. But what does this look like day-to-day in the home?

Designate a place for everyday items and establish daily rituals

Children learn through repetition, so putting in place routines which allow them responsibility for getting themselves ready each day will be effort rewarded with less stressful mornings. Consider affixing a hook for each child – at their level – in your hallway or by your front door. Coats and bags can live here, so that each morning your children can grab them as they leave, and each afternoon return them there. Likewise, shoes – along with seasonal accessories, such as gloves and scarves or sun hats and sunglasses – can be kept in an easily-accessible container under the sofa. My children love having their own special hooks and even though the 17-month old can’t quite put her coat and bag on herself just yet, she has a clear sense of pride at being able to get them herself when she knows it’s time to leave.

Easy access kitchen items and mealtime rituals

Similarly, child-friendly cutlery, crockery, baking equipment and lunch containers can also be kept in a place which your children can reach. Once items are within easy reach, rituals can be established around accessing plates and bowls for each meal and returning items to the sink or dishwasher afterwards. In our home, cereals, fruit and healthy snacks are also accessible, so our Reception-aged son can prepare his own breakfast and the toddler can pull out whichever cereal she chooses each day. It may take a little time and repetition to get children to return items to the same place, but it is worth it to see the self-esteem it builds when they are allowed to do these things for themselves.

multi-coloured wooden toy building blocks on a wooden surface

Fewer toys

Our consumerist culture would have us believe that the arrival of a child in our homes is synonymous with the sudden necessity for a multitude of items we never before considered we would need (clue: we don’t). And the bombardment of daily marketing plying parents and children with messaging that they “need” this-that-and-the-other just carries on from there.

Whether you store and rotate toys, or simply make a commitment to have fewer to play with, the benefits are numerous: it’s quicker and easier to tidy up; it fosters far more creativity; children play better and for longer with what they do have.

Simple toy storage makes tidying up a game

Store toys which are most loved and are played with daily in open baskets. If baskets aren’t your thing, use other easy-to-access open containers which you like the look of, such as a shelving unit, canvas bags on hooks or felt boxes – especially if this is in your living space. That way, you can feel satisfied each evening that all toys are tidied away without having the eyesore of plastic boxes encroaching on your limited child-free time.

Store toys by type (cars, soft toys, dolls, building blocks, dressing up clothes), by colour or a different way each time – whatever works because any method of distinguishing toys means it’s simple to make tidying up a game and get even the very youngest of children involved. Think like Mary Poppins: “In every job that must be done, there is an element of fun. You find the fun and – SNAP – the job’s a game.” Those with the musical ability of Mary Poppins can come up with a catchy tidying-up song too. The rest of us can find one on Spotify.

Keep toys and books visible on open shelving

Another Montessori-lesson is to store toys and books in bedrooms on easy-to-reach shelving, with as few items in each space as possible, and then to encourage your children to return an item before another is selected. This allows easy child-led tidying and also leads to more focused play rather than the over-stimulation that can come from having access to too many toys at once. When everything is visible, it becomes very easy to assess which toys are getting regular use and which have been outgrown, at which point you can decide with your children whether it’s time to rotate, or to pass some things on to someone else who might like to play with them. When this is part of family conversation and encouraged from a young age, children become less attached to a multitude of items and really value the chance to be able to share toys which they have outgrown with someone who might be less fortunate than they are.

Red and white decorated childs bedroom with open shelving and toy basket

These small and simple changes can really make a difference to a household. You will notice all the wonderful benefits of having a tidier and more ordered home: more time, less stress, clearer focus. Perhaps more importantly, you’ll also notice the pride and joy it gives small children to have a little bit of independence; to take responsibility for their own possessions and daily chores; to focus and play when they have fewer toys to choose from; to truly value those that they do have; as well as gaining an understanding of the value of being able to share their good fortune with others. What could be a better pay off than that?

If Rebecca’s advice has inspired you to get your family more organised, you can find your local professional organiser here.

apdo blog family organising decluttering

How do I get my family to declutter?

As professional organisers, one of the questions that we are most frequently asked is: “How do I get my spouse/children/housemate on-board with decluttering?” In this post, professional organiser and coach Hannah Ashwell-Dickinson of Declutter With Hannah gives us some guidance, and shares what has worked well with her own family.

“How do I get my family on board with decluttering?”

You may have ‘seen the light’ yourself and be reaping the rewards of living with less stuff – more space, more time, improved mental clarity and feeling freer. But it can be challenging when others in your household either can’t let go of their clutter, or simply just don’t feel your enthusiasm. Some people aren’t adversely affected by mess and clutter. But if you are, and it impacts negatively on your well-being, this can lead to tension in the household. So, what can you do?

Set an example

Firstly, you can lead by example by continuing to let go of your own belongings and enjoying the benefits.  You need to “walk the walk” yourself before expecting others to make big lifestyle changes. Have a think about why you find clutter overwhelming and try to communicate that to the other people in your home. Start requesting experiences or consumables as gifts instead of “stuff” so that less is coming into your home and you show that you are serious about wanting to live with less.

apdo blog - getting family on board with decluttering - basket

Create zones

Allocate zones in the house that are clutter-free (for example, your side of the bedroom, a select number of shelves, the kitchen table) and ask people to respect that these areas should not be piled high with stuff.

Implement systems

Start to implement some systems in the house for where things should go. Have a place where keys belong, where the post goes, where bags and coats should be hung up, etc. This encourages other household members to put things away and keep communal areas tidy. Set up an easy-to-use filing system so that paperwork doesn’t pile up. And try to comment when positive changes occur – how much better you feel and how great the house looks – so that your family start to recognise that the whole house is benefitting from being more organised.

Set goals

If your family is willing – sit down and set some goals around what you would all gain by having less stuff. If you all agree to stop buying as much, you can put saved money towards a family holiday or a summer ice-cream fund. Or if you declutter the spare room you will gain extra play space or a home office. Encourage your partner or housemates to sell some things to make extra money to put towards your goal.

Start giving

Encourage family members to gather up unused toiletries and donate to food banks and refugee centres. Children are often motivated to declutter if they know their toys are going to families in need. Children also respond well to making decluttering a game. You could create a treasure hunt for the whole family to take part in where you collect broken toys, unused clothes and unwanted gifts. Whoever wins can choose an activity for you all to take part in – a family bike ride or baking a cake together.

apdo blog - getting family on board with decluttering

Set some rules

Finally, set some family rules together like “one in, one out” so that when members of the household buy something new, they must let go of something else. Or ask people to use the “one minute rule” – if something can be put away or dealt with in under one minute then do it so that jobs don’t build up.

Remember, learning to live with less and changing habits can be a slow process and it can be an even slower process changing other people’s habits. But don’t let that put your off. Slow and steady wins the race.

If you and your family would like to get some help with your decluttering, you can find your local professional organiser here.