The holiday is approaching.  We are going to Turkey, Kalkan to be precise and I am making headway into the preparations.  I have e-visas, e-tickets and the hotel and car were booked online.  So far so good.

Yesterday I hit Boots for the suncream etc.

  • Suncream
  • Aftersun
  • Shampoo and conditioner
  • Insect repellant
  • Prescription refills
  • Antihistamine cream
  • Eurax for prickly heat.
  • plastic
  • plastic
  • plastic
  • metal
  • cardboard and blister pack
  • metal
  • metal

Not one of those was refillable.  The Body Shop used to offer refills.  When I was at school in Brighton we used to go to the very first Body Shop, it was in a back street in Kemp Town I think.  The labels were handwritten and every bottle was refillable.  Now that is no more and it seems we don’t have an appetite for reusing our own containers.

Most of us of a certain age remember collecting the pop bottles to take back to the corner shop in return for a handful of pennies which we then spent on garish gobstoppers, flying saucers and blackjacks.  We all had a milkman who picked up our empty milk bottles (and used to take me on rides on his wagon and let me feed his horse carrots).  Gone in many places now.

Why do we let it happen?  Why do we not fight back?  If you know of a company or shop who refills bottles (from milk to wine to shampoo, whatever.  One which will let you use your own containers.  Let me know.  It doesn’t matter where in the world you are.  I’ll add them to a list here on the blog.  It would be good if it were a list that “grew and grew like Topsy”.  But it will only go if we vote with our feet and our wallets.



Today I tackled an AAGH zone.  The present cupboard (as opposed to the future and past cupboards) is both a help and a hindrance.

Yes, it is useful to be able to pick things up for friends and family, that moment when you see something and go “Yes!”  But there is also the temptation to buy random things in sales that you can “allocate” later.  I am often guilty of this.  There are a lot of children in our family and I have been wont to buy up books and toys in the sales and then wonder who to give them to.

Most things find happy homes, but there are a few items that have hung around for several years.  But still I have kept them in the vain hope that suddenly somebody will want the rather lovely carving set that came free with our knives.  A perfect example of the free gift you don’t want.  I still buy things when I see them and know that the person I have bought them for will love them and use them.  But all the other opportunistic purchases.  No.  Not anymore.  All I was doing was fooling myself I was getting a bargain when I was still being sucked in to the consumerist “need to have/need to buy”.  I bought two beautiful and very simple slipware tumblers for a friend.  They will suit their lifestyle and will be used.  They cost me 50P each in a closing down sale.  But who cares what the cost is?  They were bought with purpose and love not just because they were a bargain.

Then there is the wrapping paper.  Many years ago my mother and I wrapped all our presents in chinese and arabic newspapers.  Those were the days when Paris Match was exotic.  Since then I have usually wrapped presents in brown paper with red ribbon.  But that is still disposable.  We have moved on to bags, but the problem there is that you need to get the bag back in order to refill it for next year.

This is the current present cupboard.  The red box has presents that are allocated to specific people.  The pink file is my Christmas file, lists of presents I have given people over the past 10 years (with a lot of people to buy for it is important not to give a similar present two years in a row), recipes and decoration ideas etc.  Some crackers bought in the sale last year.  I think this ought to be the last year of crackers.  They are so very not zero waste.  Need to find an alternative.

The yellow bag has various things collected and made for Samaritan’s Purse  Christmas shoe boxes.

Soon it will be the Singers’ birthday.  They will be 15.  It is hard to have a mother who wants to stop buying when you are a teenager.  But I am proud to say they are on board.  Singer one doesn’t know what she wants for her birthday but she would like a really good pair of boots.  So we will buy boots in the autumn because as she says “there is no point buying something just for the sake of it when there is something I would like and use and can get later.”



When I was a student in the eighties and used my own shopping bags, refusing the plastic bags at the check out  I got some rather odd looks.  But now it is commonplace.  It is almost looked down upon to request a plastic bag.  I have yet to get non food retailers to accept my own bags but I am working on it.  Explaining that the newly purchased dress will not self destruct if it is placed in a cotton tote rather than a plastic bag with the shop’s name emblazoned on the side is still a step too far for some shops.  But the time will come.  I am patient.

It’s all about saying no.  Today I practiced refusing things I didn’t want.  The reactions were interesting.

Case one: local co-op.  I refuse the receipt and the voucher automatically printed that gives me £5 next time I spent £50.  Not an eyelash was batted.  It occurred to me to ask if it was possible to request that no receipt and voucher were printed, but I decided one step at a time.  I’ll try that tomorrow…

Case two:  large supermarket whose doors I rarely darken.  However this was an emergency.  I refused the receipt.  The girl on the checkout looked at me and looked at the receipt and yet another voucher telling me how much I had saved by shopping there rather than elsewhere and tried to give them to me again.  Again I refused.  Blind panic set in and she clearly didn’t know what to do.  By now I had bagged up my shopping (in my own bags) and was heading out of the door.  For all I know she is still clinging onto that redundant piece of paper.

We are used to saying no to plastic bags in supermarkets.  Why not say no to:

  • plastic bags in all shops from clothes to DIY
  • receipts you don’t want
  • automatically produced vouchers especially those that tell you how much you saved
  • freebies from make up to pens.  You don’t need them and they aren’t really free.
  • paper napkins
  • plastic straws and parasols in drinks
  • Bags for veg.  Why does you single broccoli have to have its own bag?  Frankly why do 6 apples have to have their own bag?
  • dry cleaners who will not take back wire coathangers

Until we start to vocalise our objections we will keep having unwanted and unnecessary stuff foistered upon us.



the AAGH zone

It is easy to lapse into a false sense of security.  Over the past few weeks we have had end of term and friends staying and auditions and university visits and parties and surprisingly enough the declutter has taken a back seat.

I have taken much that has already been decluttered off to its new homes but the remainder of the house has been untouched.  I have a confession to make.  I cannot lay the blame completely at the door of all the other activities  going on around me.  I have decluttered as far as the AAGH zone.

We all have an AAGH zone.  Sometimes they are just one zone, commonly the attic or the basement.  In our case it is the outside playroom.  The place where “things we don’t really know what to do with” meet “things that we need to keep but not in the house” (tents, sleeping bags, tins of paint etc).  Back to the theory that stuff attracts stuff and it is not long before the AAGH zone has sucked in so much stuff that you probably can’t open the door (we can’t).

Sometimes there are little AAGH zones scattered around the house.  The “present cupboard” which does indeed hold presents for other people which you have seen during the year and know will be just perfect for their birthday in six months time.  But also holds those free gifts you got at the make up counter thinking you could use as a present but never have, because just as you don’t want them, neither will anyone else.  More magnetic stuff attraction goes on here too.

With regard to that free stuff.  Say no.  Really, you can do it.  Do you want a twee little washbag to go with all the other twee little washbags you have?  Do you want all those little plastic bottles of stuff you don’t use? No?  Then say so.

We have both types of AAGH zone and neither can be done in one fell swoop, hence the procrastination and use of excuses.  Tomorrow I am going to the wonderful Nichola for my weekly reflexology and chinwag session.  After that I will be more than ready to tackle the AAGH zone under the Victorian staircase.

What is your AAGH zone and what is stopping you stepping inside it?

from the Leadmill to the pantry

Are the gigs at the Leadmill still as good?  Are the Peace Shop and The Fat Cat still on Division Street?  Is going over the top of the paternoster in the Arts Tower still the most frightening thing I have ever done?  Today I shall be finding out as I am accompanying the Dancer to Sheffield where she is going to check out the Medical School and I am going to find out how much it has changed since my student days.  Therefore I apologise but today you are getting a rehash.

This post was originally written for Susie at Let’s Get Organized.  But as I have no time to blog today I hope you don’t  mind if it comes back again.

How to tackle the kitchen…..


  1. Remove everything from the cupboard, endeavouring not to pin Newfoundland in a corner.
  2. Release cornered dog.
  3. Scrub cupboards and try not to show too much shock at the level of dust.
  4. Sit back on heels and look hopelessly at the chaos on the floor.
  5. Take a deep breath and dive in.

wall cupboard before

Wall cupboard before

Wall after

Wall cupboard after

At this point, traditional declutter divas recommend three piles.  Keep, Ditch and Maybe.  Personally I don’t hold with Maybe.  All you are doing is putting off the evil day when you have to make a decision.  As a Libran I know how hard that is so just get it over with.

Tins before

Tins before (oh my look at that dust!)

tins after

Tins after

              6. Sort into two piles.
7. Remove Ditch pile immediately to another room before you are tempted to put any of it back in cupboard.
8. Wash Keep pile as appropriate.
9. Enjoy replacing items in neat piles where you can see everything and there is plenty of space between items.
10. If (9) is not achievable go back to step (6) and repeat.

It sounds simple doesn’t it?  That’s because it is.  You don’t need fancy boxes or storage containers.  You do not need to spend the equivalent of a month’s salary at IKEA.  You just need to take command.  Whose room is it?  Yours or the Junk’s?

dresser bottom before

Dresser bottom before

dresser before

Dresser top before

dresser after

Dresser after

I can’t tell you how to approach level (6); we all have our own criteria.  But the important thing is to decide your criteria first.  I don’t necessarily go with the “if you haven’t used it in 6 months….”  Some things are only used a few times a year but are essential.  My husband wears his kilts only a few times a year but we would never get rid of them.  Our fish kettle is only used occasionally but is the only way we can cook a whole fish and as my husband is a keen fisherman we do cook whole fish.

My decision tree goes something like this:

  1. Do I use it?
  2. If no is there a reason why I should keep it?
  3. Yes answers may include family heirloom that would result in instant death and excommunication were I to ditch it/ I use it occasionally and need it for those occasions/ sentimental value.
  4. The above are all valid but the said items do not have to be kept in the kitchen cupboard taking up valuable space.  Is there somewhere else they can go?  Could they be put on display?  (Our fish kettle and wooden salad bowls live on the top of the dresser and look rather lovely but don’t get in the way.)
  1. Do I use it?
  2. If yes, are there more than one and do I need them all?
  3. I have a large collection of crockery because we entertain a lot and I don’t use anything disposable.  On the other hand I did not need 15 egg cups.  We are a family of 5, even with guests we are unlike to need more than 10.  I kept 9.  Three are family heirlooms, two belonged to my children and one belonged to me as a child.  Hit three birds with one stone.

Multiples of useful items are common stumbling blocks.  We all need mugs etc.  But how many do we need?  How big is your family?  How often do you have guests?  How many guests do you have?  Do you have a dishwasher? (Dishwashers eat crockery – if you hand wash you can get away with less).

tea cupboard before

Tea cupboard before

tea cupboard after

Tea cupboard after

I discovered we had 4 sets of bone china tea services, each contained a cup, saucer and tea plate for 8 to 12 plus two to four sandwich plates, milk jug, sugar bowl and teapot.  I had kept them for sentimental reasons and pretended I had kept them for my daughters.  My daughters will not want them and if they do they can fight over the one I will keep or do battle with my future son-in-laws’ families over their own tea services.  I don’t use coffee cups after dinner, I think they are far too small, I use the tea service.  Thus I have kept the largest service the rest will be boxed up for auction.

I did the pantry last week so there are no before and after photos.  However this is the one room I do declutter (rather than merely tidy) on a regular basis.  I am a bit anal about my pantry.  But that too turned out to require more attention than I had realised.  You will continue to buy more mint sauce if you can’t see the jar behind the rosehip jelly.  You have to inventory on a regular basis.  If you don’t you will end up making multiple purchases.



It helps if you plan your meals on a weekly basis.  I don’t subscribe to the 15 (or whatever) circulating recipes.  How boring that must get.  Instead I start my shopping in my pantry and freezer.  Then I get out 2-4 recipe books and look for new recipes to try using the major ingredients I have found on my in house shop.  I bought some mutton at the last farmers’ market so we have had several mutton/goat recipes this week (the two are easily interchangeable).  I supplement with recipes that catch my eye and then allocate them to days of the week, taking into account any evenings when one or more of us will be out late or away and to the length of time I will have available to prepare.  Baked potatoes and pasta (not together!) are our no time to chop night meals.  The shopping list is made on the basis on the ingredients I need which are not in the pantry or freezer.

This way you keep a regular eye on your store cupboard, have a menu plan for the week, buy only what you need and try out new recipes.  What’s not to like?

There is no point in getting rid of things you no longer need or want if you are just going to fill up the gaps with more of the same.  Like a dieter who drops two dress sizes you don’t want to go back.  You have to rethink how you shop.  I now have a strict one in one out policy.  I still love shopping, it’s just that I don’t buy anything.  I can enjoy and appreciate the beauty and form of everything from a dress to a vase.  But I don’t need to buy it.  I treat shopping like a trip to a museum, I admire but I leave it behind.

the procreation of stuff


There comes a time in the decluttering process when everything slows down.  The first push is over and you can already see improvements.  The first exodus has been made and items rehomed where they will be used and loved.  You sit back and smile.  Pat yourself on the back and admire your newly neat and uncluttered cupboards.

I have spent quite a lot of time the  last month opening and closing cupboard doors and wandering in and out of rooms and giving myself great big congratulatory pats on the back.  Not content to do this alone I have encouraged, nay forced everyone who comes to the house to do the same.  I have drawn the line at inviting the postman to inspect my linen cupboard, but only just.  I am in the evangelical phase.  I want everyone to know how liberating decluttering can be.  I want to share my joy and I want to show off just a little bit as well.


However, the clue is in the first line.  The first push is over.  I may have won the first battle but the war is by no means completed.  I fully intend to win but it will be a protracted process.  Today I moved all the stuff in the Barn that I had removed from the kitchen.  I packed up tea services and plates and labelled the boxes for charity.  Then for good measure I did a quick whizz around the Barn to pick up any stray items that had snuck in whilst the kitchen stuff was there.  Stuff attracts stuff.  Leave stuff around and it will double in size as more stuff is added to it.  Have no stuff lying around and there is nowhere for new stuff to hide!


the lure of the list

Lists.  Obligations. Hobbies. Bucket List.

Do you really need them?  Are they helping you move forward in your life?  Helping you to achieve your goals and dreams?  Or are they holding you back; weighing you down with things that you must do.


The To Do List.  Almost every organisational book, every guide to planning is an instruction manual for the to do list in one incarnation or another.  Don’t get me wrong,  I have a to do list, I even have a book that I write my to do lists in.  I could probably write one of those instruction manuals.  But sometimes that list is a killer.  Just looking at it makes me want to fire up the laptop and play candy crush saga for the rest of the day.

Are there things on that list because you think they ought to be on there but you know you are never going to do, at least not today.  Things like dust the top of the wardrobe, write to your great aunt.  They sit there and stare at you and make you feel guilty.

If you are not going to do them don’t put them on the list.  Declutter it.

If you are going to do it one day but not today have a second list, I call mine the 25 hours in a day list.  The things that I have to do at some point but not right now.  That list gets decluttered once a month.  If I haven’t done it in a month I am not going to do it.

Obligations.  How many do you have.  Are they real obligations or have you convinced yourself that they are?  There are somethings you have said you will do so you must.  But what are you saying yes to and why?  Out of a sense of duty, love, reciprocation.  They are all valid reasons but you should balance them out.  If every obligation is out of a sense of duty you will start to resent them.  My obligations include a fundraising charity I currently chair.  I do that out of love and fun.  I really enjoy it, I share the work with friends and though it can be stressful and hard work the payoff is well worth it.  I also run our church Sunday School.  Initially that was out of duty.  My children made up a sizeable proportion of the Sunday School.  It only seemed fair that I contributed.  My children have long grown out of Sunday School but I still do it, partly out of duty (I think every church should have a Sunday School) and partly love .  Another is the Durham Local Food Network.  I helped set up both the Network and the subsequent Directory out of frustration!

Hobbies.  Oh these are real time sucks and clutter generators.  Whether you fish, knit, make paper airplanes or nurture bonsai trees will have kit.  Lots of kit.  Because you have the kit you will begin to feel obligated to use it.  Cast your mind back to when you first discovered your hobby.  When you had no kit.  When you went fishing with one 15ft salmon rod, one reel and a small box of flies.  You were ready to go in seconds and you went out a lot.  Now a fishing trip requires almost an entire day to sort out the best rod and reels.  The right flies for the water, the right waders and net and then the right bag to put it all in.  How often do you go fishing now?

Bucket List. I am all for having a list of things that you would like to do before you die.  But unless you are genuinely terminally ill are you using your bucket list to avoid living your real life.  Are you too busy accumulating experiences to experience the everyday?

Lists are a tool designed to help us.  Yet it is all too easy to allow them to become clutter themselves.  Filling our lives with things we do or feel we need to do but don’t.  Don’t be lured by the appeal of the list.  Make sure you stay in control and not the other way around.