Clutter: It’s a ball of string

Clutter is trending – there are whole TV shows devoted to people with regrettable hoarding tendencies. Newspapers and magazines regularly run “how to’s” on how to get yourself organised, in which a dominant theme is what to do about clutter.

Now, in my view, the pre-eminent place to go for help with clutter is the Flylady website – she has tips, she has emotional support, she has systems, she has tools.  She is the queen, and all other organisational websites are merely ladies in waiting. So, if your life or house is full of discontent and mess, please check her out.

I do know that people find her a bit overwhelming – there are a lot of emails and there’s a lot to take in and the tone is often very American and so a bit unfamiliar to us here in the wild and woolly South.

So, here is my own thought about a place to start. To untangle a ball of string, you have to find the end, and then just start gently tugging. So, as you go about your business, look at your house and car and desk and see what’s in and on them. Really, really look at all your stuff. And as you do that, hold this quote in your head: 

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful. – William Morris

You might find, as you gaze at the hideous elephant figurine that Aunt Amira brought back from India, that it is not useful, and certainly not beautiful. And you might want to put it out with the rubbish. And that is a start.

If you love it, photograph it and let it go

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They were loved, and on they go

In the last week or so, I deluttered our upstairs bathoom. It was not too bad before – just filled with invisible sh*t (our household phrase for things that have been around so long that we no longer see them) and a significant accumulation of bath toys. At bathtime, I went through all these things with the 10-year-old and some was chucked, some was moved to where it belonged and some was photographed and ear-marked for giving away. Continue reading “If you love it, photograph it and let it go”

What we can learn from dogs


Yesterday as I was driving my son home from swimming, I saw a woman walking two dogs. One was a Labrador-size canine, one was terrier shape. I saw them from behind and they both had their tails up, waving happy flags. My heart lifted at the sight.

And today, our own dog derived huge excitement from the mundane process of defrosting the freezer. You can watch, you can stick your nose in, you can eat bits of ice off the floor. It was clearly the best thing that had happened to him since breakfast – which is always a huge event, even though it is the same old healthy pellets every time.

So today’s lesson is – try to live in the moment, the way dogs do.


‘My friend is so organised she makes me sick’

So, we hate housework. We think we have some higher purpose in life. And we think staying home to do the housework and take care of others is lower status work.

We also, it seems, disparage the idea of being organised… as exemplified in the  attitude I heard expressed in a lift one day: “My friend is so organised she makes me sick.” Being organised is  uncool (at the same time as being a target of covert envy).

All of this makes for a pretty toxic way of living: we either live in mess, or we keep things tidy resentfully. And we either live in chaos, or we pretend that we are not organised, so as to appear creative and spontaneous.

So here I sit on a Sunday morning, with a set of lists made for the whole week (in the central black Moleskine by which my life is conducted). I know what we will be having for supper next Sunday. I have a set of outfits in my cupboard all made up and ready to be taken out each night for the next day. And I’m proud of all that. It takes work, but it removes stress. So, uncool I am and always will be.

God (or whatever) is in the details

Writing in the Financial Times, Simon Kuper describes the creation of Unitaid, an international drugs-purchasing agency which many people have never heard of (briefly, it   has raised $2.2bn to buy medicines for some of the poorest people on earth, largely through a small tax on plane tickets).

Kuper describes the work that went into creating this agency, largely by then French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy and quotes him thus:

“Everything is in the detail,” he told me. “Politics taught me that. And medicine too.” [Kuper concludes] Lives are saved not by ideology or personality but by boring details that hardly anyone wants to read about.

 What a wonderful idea for the people in the world who care about details… that by paying attention to them, great things can be achieved.