how to save your sanity with a small box

We all  have to have one get out a gaol free card, one perfectly allowable excuse.  Unless you are so minimalist as to be able to pack your entire life into a shoebox then the same is true for your house.  It has to have it’s own get out of gaol card.

We tend to spend most of our time in one of three rooms, the kitchen, the morning room or the sitting room.  As sure as night follows day our detritus follows us.  Thus these rooms tend to have more than their fair share of clutter.  Not things that need to be got rid off, but things that belong somewhere else.  And we all know what clutter attracts … more clutter.    Leave that bottle of suncream on the coffee table and it will soon be joined by a phone, a shopping list, yesterday’s post and an empty mug.
On the other hand, even control freaks like me cannot spend all their time running up and downstairs putting things away, and what about the things that aren’t yours and you don’t know where they belong (other than not on the coffee table)?  Enter the box.The box has two criteria:

  1. it must be small enough to fit on a shelf, somewhere easily accessible, it is not a giant storage box;
  2. it must be reasonably attractive, it is on view, personally I don’t want a horrid electric pink plastic box in my kitchen.

I have a small (9″x6″x12″) rectangular wicker box that fits on top of a freestanding cupboard in the kitchen next to the radio and the spare change jar.  It is easily accessible, but not in the way.

You can put two things in the box:

  1. Those useful things that you need but don’t deserve a drawer of their own.  In our case that is my hearing aid batteries and replacement tubes, tiny screwdrivers for tightening glasses, two torches, matches/lighter, the village newsletter, a couple of penknives, letter opener, lip salve, hand cream, a small jar of Euros for when we go to Europe.
  2. Things that need to go somewhere else but I don’t have time to rehome them right now.  Recently this has included a bottle of perfume, several pairs of earrings, a pocket hairbrush, a toothbrush, a newly filled prescription and the cat worming tablets.

Once a week (and this is CRUCIAL) you must upend the box completely and sort it out, returning only the items in section one.  All items falling into section two  must now be put back in one fell swoop.  Here is my box in all it’s glory after the Friday sort out.

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And here are the two piles ready to be rehomed, one to the study

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and one to the bedroooms.

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This box is our lifesaver.

  • If somebody has lost something there is a 99% chance somebody else has put it in the box.
  • Little things do not get left on surfaces and lost.
  • I don’t lose my temper half as much with my appallingly untidy family 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

how cut food waste, cut bills and see the back of your fridge

How often do you eat?  I rest my case.  You will spend a LOT of time in your fridge and larder (or food cupboards or wherever you keep the food that doesn’t live in your fridge, please don’t email me, larder is an easy word that you all understand 🙂 )

Is your fridge full of little bowls of leftovers, unidentified things in silver foil?  Do you take one look and think it would be easier just to pop out and buy a couple of chicken breasts for dinner?  How much money are you wasting on food?  Combine decluttering with the essential post holiday belt tighten and clear out your fridge.

Give it a really good clean whilst you are at it (a paste made from water or water and vinegar and bicarb is an excellent cleaner and gets rid of any unwanted smells).  Put back all the regular essentials (milk, butter, fruit juice etc.) and have a good look at what is left.  Divide it up into OMG how long has that been there , it is no longer recognisable as food, and the rest.  You can chuck the former.  This is the only time you will do that.  From now on there will be no more UFOs (unidentified food objects) in your fridge.

The rest needs to be sorted into what you have to eat fairly quickly, the open packet of bacon for example and what can hang on for a while yet, that hard heel of cheese.  Take the first group and work out what you could cook with them.  I tidied my fridge after the Christmas holidays, it was full of bits of leftovers and was driving me nuts.    The last bits of cooked ham, some cold boiled potatoes, some rather dried out sausages and the end of homemade terrine (ie I knew what was in it) was chopped up and added to the butchers scraps and cooked up for the dogs.  We had crunchy topped  cheese and squash bake using only leftovers from the fridge.  1 elderly and slightly worse for wear squash, 1 bowl of dried breadcrumbs, the remains of a pot of creme fraiche, the open packet of bacon and all the left over and rather hard heels of cheese from the holidays.  It was delicious.

If you really can’t think of what to cook with your assorted ingredients then hit the internet.  “Cabbage and cranberry recipes” alone brought up pages and pages of recipes.  So now you have tonight’s supper sorted you can put those ingredients to one side and look at the rest.

Again sort them into order of decay – i.e. use the ingredients that will last longest last.

Hey presto!  You have cleared your fridge AND written a menu plan for the next few days and you haven’t even spent a single penny.

If you are feeling brave you really ought to combine a fridge clear with a freezer clear.  With careful jiggling and swapping of ingredients you can take the hassle out of “what are we going to eat tonight”, save a fortune on groceries and find order in your kitchen.  What’s not to like?

I plan menus every week, it makes life so much easier and cheaper.  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 have planned every meal this week without having to purchase a single ingredient.  Last night we had pan fried steak and cranberry sauce using the left over cranberries and two rather small steaks from the freezer.  We are a family of five so cut the steak into strips after I cooked it, laid it over a mound of mashed potato, poured the sauce over the top and added lots of veg.

Once you have your recipes  allocate them to days of the week, taking into account any evenings where you will have to serve at different times to accommodate other people’s commitments or will have little time to prepare.  Baked potatoes and pasta (not together!) are our” no time to faff in the kitchn”meals.  The shopping list is made on the basis on the ingredients I need which are not in the pantry or freezer.

And this is what our fridge looks like now.

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Yes I know there are still some foil covered bowls.  One is the last of the brandy butter and my life is not worth living if I don’t keep that, but I know it will go.  The other is the meat from the remains of a game pie I made which I am keeping to pill Meg (an elderly springer spaniel not my daughter – she has six tablets twice a day and it can be a bit of a challenge persuading her to take them).  Oh and you know those little plastic punnets that you get with soft fruit?  I keep them and use them to hold little things like garlic, chillies, ginger, cherry tomatoes, shallots etc.  It stops them rolling around in the vegetable drawer and means I can see exactly how much I have left of anything.

Tonight is cauliflower cheese by the way 🙂

house walk and oomph

Hair brushed?  Shoes on?  Teeth sparkly?  Excellent let’s get going.

We are going for a walk, a walk around your house.  We can start wherever you like but I am an organised type and like Maria I prefer to start at the very beginning: the front door.  So go outside (see I told you you would need shoes).

Open the door and have a good look around.  What do you see?  Compare this with what you would like to see.  What do you need to do to make it look how you would like?  No, we are not talking paint or new furniture or the absence of the enormous teenager blocking the hallway.  Get out your noteboook (you did bring a notebook?  No?  Go back and get one and a pen or pencil please too).  Jot down the problem areas.  Shoes and coats are the most likely ones here, but you might have a hallstand that has become the dump zone, perhaps there are some old and dusty dried flowers on the windowsill that once you thought might brighten the place up but now look like Miss Haversham’s bridal bouquet.  You get the gist.

Move around the house and do the same in all the rooms, including bathroom, kitchen, understairs cupboards etc.  Leave out any garages, outbuildings, attics or cellars.  You don’t have to be specific, “videos” or “dressing table” will do.  Now go and make a cup of tea or whatever rocks your boat and sit down with your notebook.

Which room upset you most?  Which one would make you feel really good if you got it ship shape?  For me it wasn’t a room but cupboards.  I am a naturally neat and organised person so my cupboards were neat and organised and FULL to bursting and I hated it.  So I started with linen and clothes.  It was wonderful.  I spent ages just staring at the linen cupboard and the Women’s Refuge seemed quite pleased with the sheets and towels and duvets that I no longer needed.  It gave me the oomph I needed to keep going.

That’s what you are looking for – you OOMPH.  The room or cupboard that will make your heart sing when you have decluttered it.  Because once you have got that feeling,  you will want it again and will be fired up to move on to the next one.  Believe  me, it is quite an addictive process.  Also it feels absolutely wonderful crossing off everything in your notebook 🙂

So what are you waiting for?  Off you go.

why you can’t declutter without a hairbrush

The decorations are down.  You have finished almost all of the leftovers.  The alarm clock is your new best friend.  And the house is a tip.  There is the little pile of presents you don’t really know where to put.  A pile of chocolates and other “interesting” delicacies that nobody wants to eat.  Worst of all there is all that stuff you hid in cupboards and under beds before Christmas because you hadn’t got the time to sort it out then and you didn’t want it cluttering up the house over the holidays.

So what do you do?  You start decluttering.  You hit IKEA or the Pound Shop for interesting storage ideas that will help you be more organised.  You spend hours on FlyLady (which is excellent btw) and realise that the reason you are in such a mess is that you don’t have the right cleaning tools.  You invest a small fortune on house planners and organisers.  And by the end of the week you are (a) poor (b) knackered (c) the owner of clutter in boxes as opposed to clutter on the floor.

So I introduce you to the essentials for a good house declutter and start to the new year.

Hairbrush

hairbrush

 

Do not attempt to declutter in your pyjamas.  I am right there with Flylady on this.  This is a job.  Would you go to work in your onsie?  Get up, get dressed, brush your hair (and tie it up if it is long like mine, it will just keep getting in the way), clean your teeth and address your clutter from a position of organised superiority.  If you feel clean and organised you have already won half the battle.  If you feel grubby and unkempt you are not going to be in the right mindset.  Get the mindset and the body will follow.

Shoes

shoes

 

You will be taking stuff out to the rubbish, to the compost, to the car.  It is winter (well for half of us anyway) it is wet, cold and even snowy.  You do not want to be wearing slippers.  Also see above (1) above.

Once you are up, dressed, shiney and ready to go you can assemble the following.  I’ll take you through  each item day by day over the next week.  I am not going to go over the sorting process (keep, bin, donate) you are all grown up.  You know how to actually do the decluttering, you do not need a book or a blog to tell you what to do.  This is about how to keep you on the ball, how to change little things in your daily life that can help all that stuff getting through the door in the first place

  • A house walk
  • The fridge and larder
  • 12 dividers and a simple ring binder
  • A blackboard
  • A small box
  • An apron

See you later 🙂