Category: De cluttering

Declutter your closet – a year of not buying any clothes

I am on a mission to declutter my house once and for all

I have been on the declutter wagon for a good few years now. I have purged my clothes many times. This year is the biggest challenge when it comes to paring down my wardrobe.

I decided not to buy any clothes in 2017

Having downsized and decluttered (and still decluttering) the clothes the DH and I have now fit into one small closet and one chest of drawers. They fit but it is tight.

I am doing this for a number of reasons.

I don’t need any more clothes. I have enough.

My friend Lisa inspired me – fast fashion contributes to landfill, overuse of chemicals and exploitation of workers.

I don’t have the space to store more clothes.

To live more simply.

Too much choice is not good for mental health.

My mom hoarded clothes.

I have gone without buying clothes before. When the DH and I were not working we didn’t buy clothes for almost three years. Our priority was caring for our growing children, and to eat and heat.

Even when I returned to work I was so used to not having any money I still didn’t shop. I saved most of my salary as the plan was to go travelling when the contract ended.

My first new clothes in three years

I was invited to a wedding. I bought a complete new outfit, dress, shoes, bag, jewellery and a fascinator. My boss remarked that he had never seen someone so excited about clothes shopping. I explained that I had not had any new clothes for three years so this was not mindless shopping, this was planned shopping and I was enjoying the whole experience. He was genuinely shocked that I had not had new clothes for three years.  Not shoes, not socks not underwear. Nothing.

Shopping is the quick fix

For many the payday weekend spent mindlessly buying more t shirts and tops and shoes that they don’t need is the norm.  A new top for the weekend or an impulse purchase that may never be worn (we all have those right) is a reward for working. Advertisers tell us to treat ourselves so we do. We deserve this, we tell ourselves, as we plunder Primark.

Investment dressing

Nine years later I still have the dress, the jewellery and the shoes I bought for the wedding in 2008. I know it was 2008 because when looking for a dress I knew that I wanted one inspired by the dress Meryl Streep wears to the wedding in Mama Mia. While I don’t wear the outfit every day (not a shopping in Aldi type of outfit) they are loved and worn regularly. The dress packs well for holidays and when I wear it I still feel good in it. The cost per wear ratio is low. I intend that all my clothes will be an investment and last for many years.

Ditching clothes in Melbourne

Last year, whilst travelling, I ditched a substantial amount of clothes in Melbourne – donated to an Op Shop. The DH and I had brought too many clothes with us and whilst we needed winter clothes at the beginning of the trip we didn’t for the last part in Queensland and New Zealand. We had also packed the wrong sort of clothes and decided to buy some clothes in Australia. We replaced heavy sweat shirts with puffer jackets that are light and warm which pack down small. Jeans were replaced with travel trousers which have since been also discarded. Because I blame them for The Rash that blighted my NT trip.

Packing light

For 11 days in the NT I lived out of a 40l backpack weighing 8kg. It was enough. Why I packed too many clothes for the trip down under baffles me still. All I need is one pair of linen trousers, one pair of cotton shorts a t shirt and a linen tunic dress. Add one pair of sandals and 1 pair of trainers, swimsuit, travel towel and undies – and that was my 11 day packing list.

Back into the closet

In 2016 and now back in the UK I completely overhauled my wardrobe. Again. I already practiced Project 333. I added some items, donated more to charity and replaced the shoes and jeans I had discarded in Melbourne. We have very limited space for clothes in the small house. One small cupboard and one chest of drawers. I converted to the KonMari art of folding and never looked back.

In 2017 I decided not to buy clothes for a year

It is now month four and I have not bought any clothes. Neither has the DH.

Have I been tempted? Yes I have. First was a cardigan on sale. One similar to my favourite cardigan. Made by an ethical clothing company, Thought. I tried it on, thinking of all the ways I could justify this purchase. Ethical, reduced, fits my colour palette. I did not buy it. It did not feel or look right on me. I put it back on the hanger and walked away.

My other temptation was when in Chester and there were a few shops with clothes I love. White Stuff. Mistral and Fat Face. I looked and touched and walked out of the shop.

I repeated to myself:

I have enough.

I need to check how ethical their clothes are.

Declutter not acquire.

Spending on clothes stopped but spending on other things started

I have noticed that I have been buying more of other stuff instead. Lovely notebooks and pens. Travel accessories.

I have justified them all.

I needed the note books and pen because I want to start a journal in long hand.

I needed the bullet journal and pen because I want to learn how to bullet journal.

I needed the Lamy roller ball pen because despite having inherited some beautiful ink pens (including a Lamy fountain pen) I am messy and ink goes everywhere, but any old biro isn’t good enough for Leuchtturm1917 note books.

I needed the pen loop for the Leuchtturm1917 journals to ensure I did not lose the pen. The pen does not fit the loop.

I needed the Travelon Anti theft bag because my old one was too small and wearing out.

I needed the travel document holder because it has RFID and is better than a poly pocket.

I needed the organisers because cables get mixed up in backpacks.

I needed the labels for the cables because I never know which one is for which gadget.

I needed the flat toiletry bags because packing toiletries is a nightmare and these have special compartment for everything.

You see how it is.

And yet

Have I started a journal? No. They are so beautiful I don’t want to spoil their loveliness.

Have I used the pen? Yes and I love it. No one is allowed to borrow it.

Have I attached pen loops? No.

I have used the handbag every day – I can carry all I need, including the new purse I also needed, a book to read, another note book that I use all the time and my diary, plus phone and lippy.

I have used one travel organiser (used all the time) as we keep all cables in there now. The others will be used when we travel. So far we have not labelled the cables.

I have used the toiletry bags because they discipline me not to take too much. However for carry on only I may go back to ziplock bags only due to airport security. We will see.

Many of the travel items were recommended by my on line friend of almost 2 years (although I have followed her blog for longer). And they are jolly useful. Because I don’t and she does have affiliate links to these items I am adding a link here. Alyson is chief blogger at World Travel Family. She only recommends things she uses and thinks are good. The blog is worth a read too.

I need to extend the no buy rule

It did strike me that I was buying much more than I usually do.

Why was this?

I had to give some thought to this. After all I write about decluttering, I help others declutter so why was I accumulating?

Because I was depressed.

Because I had Amazon Prime.

You see the list above is not complete

I have also bought:A wireless doorbell.

Bamboo toothbrushes from Holland and Barrett. And because I got free delivery if I spent £20 I got other stuff too.

Packing cubes from Muji. They were half price. I already have four sets of Ikea packing cubes.

A bed, two mattresses and bed linen from Ikea. Slipped that major purchase in.

A weeks holiday in Cape Verde.

A weekend away in Shropshire.

I realised that I was getting addicted to online shopping. So I stopped. This does not help my mission to declutter.

I was suffering with SAD and the ongoing problems with the house (lots of bills and no progress) and house clearing was making me miserable. So I shopped. And as I hate going to shops, I clicked.

I stopped. And then my hairdryer blew up. I considered doing without but I have long hair and it takes half a day to dry naturally, without sun. I bought a hairdryer.

I have stopped buying now

And now I am getting rid of all my unwanted furniture. It was a choice of paying removalists and storage for furniture that no longer suits my life or selling and giving it away. Today I have sold two sofas, two Turkish rugs, two occasional tables a computer chair and some other random things that were cluttering my life. My neighbour has  vintage desk and bureau. Another neighbour has my vintage breadbin and the other has the workbench. They are doing our garden as payment in kind.

I have moved on

I realised that I was stressed and depressed because I was planning to move and store stuff I don’t want. I lost sight of the plan. This house is an investment and we are renovating it to rent and sell. Not a forever home. I was buying stuff to fill the gap of not travelling. I have to continue to declutter to achieve my goal.

So here is the plan

Don’t buy anymore stuff


Finish the house (involves buying things but not stuff)

Rent it out on Air B&B

Use it as a base when in the UK

House sit more

Travel more

Sell the house

Live in a warm country

What do you think of the plan?








Dedicated to Joy

Joy was the stage name of my mother.  Most people in her later years knew her as Sylv or Sylvia. Looking back, she was much more of a Joy than a Sylvia.

She found joy in so many things.

Travelling far and wide in the last 30 years of her life, she would think nothing of waking up one morning and getting a flight to go and have lunch in Rome.

The opportunity to get in a cage with a baby tiger, in Thailand,  Mom would be fighting to get to the front. I have recently wrote more about these adventures in my Travelling Sylvia posts.

Clothes. She loved her clothes. If she liked something she would often buy one in every colour it came in.

There was no such thing as the one in one out rule for her. Although she did love selling them at boot sales.

One of the last things she asked me to do was to make sure they went to people who would have loved them as much a she did. So this is what I am doing.

I didn’t realise until I started the painful; process the extent of her hoarding and inability to throw anything away. Love letters from a Greek man she met on her first Shirley Valentine aventure. My careers advice from 1975. A post war petrol ration book. And lots more.

Some clothes have been donated to a permaculture project, where they will be upcycled and sold to raise funding for the project.

Many items have also gone to local charity shops. Twenty large bags so far.

Some I have kept and am wearing, those that fit me (she was 4′ 11″ I am 5′ 7″).

I have also given books and other items to good friends who have been so lovely and supportive during the worst weeks of my life.

The Burberry macs (three of them), the Gloverall Duffles (two), dresses and suits made by East, Monsoon, Anouki, Viyella and Country Casuals, jewellery and other bits and bobs I discover, will all be offered via Retro Joy, a virtual pop up, with occasional stalls at various events. I will always give 10% of the proceeds to a charity or other good cause.

Project 333 – changing the way I dress forever

Project 333 and me

  • One of my two core colours for Project 333

Could you live with only 33 items of clothing? Including jewelry and other accessories?As part of my ongoing decluttering journey and forays into minimalism – I discovered Project 333. I was in the process of clearing my closet out. At the time I had no idea that a year later I would be living in a much smaller house with a cupboard for a wardrobe and only one chest of drawers for me and my husband to share.

Good job I got rid of so many clothes then.

The tricks that do not work (but help)

Like many others before me, I had done the ‘turn the coathangers around so if you don’t wear an item you will know’ trick. I then hung all newly laundered on the left so that it was obvious that items on the right never got worn, and then I arranged by colour. And while some of these techniques helped identify what I didn’t wear they didn’t leave the closet, because.

Like someday, because is a dangerous word

Because I may lose weight and they will fit me again.

Because they cost a lot of money.

Because they are beautiful, even if I can’t wear them.

Because it may come in useful.

Because I may need it someday.

Because insert your because here.

Then I discovered Project 333. No way, only 33 items of clothes allowed in 3 months. I can’t do that I thought.

Well, yes I can. The organising by colour had helped, as had the moving of clothes that I wore all the time to the left hand side of the wardrobe. It was obvious that most of the time I only wore two colours.

The Barack Rule – stick to one or two colours

My son had unwittingly, and because he is essentially a minimalist by nature (no idea where he got that trait from), applied the Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg/Barack Obama rules of dressing years ago. He only wears one colour (blue) and has exactly the right amount of clothes to get him through the week. Washes them once a week, and begins again on Monday.

When packing he packs by outfit, ie jeans and top per day/two days, plus socks etc for the amount of days he is away. He only has three pairs of shoes. Until recently he only had one pair of shoes, some trainers. The other two were acquired when he had to wear formal shoes for work and new trainers when he started going to the gym.

I reckon he has 29 items of clothing and that number has increased only due to having started work and not being able to wear jeans there. Let me tell you he has one tie and that comes off the minute he leaves work. Nothing is replaced until it wears out.

Both Phil, my husband, and I had/have too many clothes. The DH gets tempted to buy a shirt every time he goes to Asda. Insomuch that he has identical shirts (see The Barack rule above).

With him I have to insist on the one in two out rule, which makes him think very hard about buying a new shirt. What worked for me was that I looked at the colours I wore, my favourite and most worn jewelry, and got rid of almost everything that did not meet the criteria.

Some were easier than others. Work clothes, quite formal ones, kept in case I ever got a proper job again (see that is someday creeping in there) were put in the first bags to go to charity. I was never going to get a proper job again. Never would I return to corporate life. This clothes cull was before I interviewed for my last job, which was proper, but not proper in that I needed to be suited and booted nor conform to normal. Goodness, a normal person could not have done my last job. Which is why it suited me and my clothes.

Many of the clothes held very negative memories. Corporate polo and sweatshirts from my PwC days. A job I ended up loathing, a job that made me ill. Why did I keep them? Because I could wear them to do decorating in. Wow, getting rid of them was so good. All the negative energy was gone.

Yet purging my wardrobe was hard. I have made some mistakes. Maybe got rid of things I regret. Kept things I will never wear again. It is a work in progress. And of course Project 333 is not about only having 33 items. It is about choosing 33 per season. And the regrets, well that is where I use the 20/20 rule.

To cope with the smaller closet I put non seasonal clothes in a vacuum bag. However, when I went to Sorrento and Skiathos earlier this year, many of those got culled because I realised I did not need 5 pairs of linen trousers. I kept one pair and bought a new pair (see Buying New Clothes below). The top I loved and was beautiful and cost a lot of money (see the becauses above) was falling apart. Gosh, it was painful throwing it away. Cost per wear though? I reckon it was almost 20 years old. Worn every summer without fail, so £5 per year or about 25p per wear. I have many items that I have had for a number of years and still wear.

As I write, I am wearing the t shirt I got in NZ in 2011 which I wear every week, all year round, and a sweat shirt I got in Cornwall in 2010. Ditto – wear it every week, all year round. They have both seen better days and because I have packed too much (the irony of admitting that in a post about Project 333 is not lost on me) it may not continue to be in my suitcase after September. We will see.

Buying new clothes

I also bought new clothes once I got on board with Project 333. What? Let me explain. I had a long period of Not Buying It. I didn’t buy a coat or boots, even though the cats had peed on my boots. That was my initial way to cope with the clutter – do not let anything new into the house.

Then I started a new job and although I could wear jeans, my sweat shirt and t really did not cut it at meetings with church leaders, although in the warehouse they did. So in came the tunic dresses and leggings. Once I had leggings I needed boots. I found some new linen trousers that were better quality than the ones I got rid of, that wash and wear better, and look smarter. For every new item at least two old ones have to go. What is good for the goose is also good for the gander. If I expect that from the DH I have to practice it myself.

And the coat I loved and had not cost a lot was falling apart (cost per wear less than a penny). The duffel coat that was my mom’s and was warm that I dragged to a 2015 Melbourne winter, looked tatty and was heavy. I needed a warm, lightweight coat, and warm boots.

Practical and smart. And neutral to fit in with the clothes I choose for Project 333. Black, both of them, when all my other clothes are blue – with a splash of coral in the summer – mostly jewel colours.

And that is what works for me. As undergarments are replaced they too are either jewel colours or neutral. I have one turquoise scarf and a coral coloured jacket that was on sale crept in recently. I reckon it goes with turquoise. And purple (foodbank purple particularly).

So two new coats – but five old coats have left the closet and went to charity. One, beautiful and expensive camel coat, worn half a dozen times had been kept due to the becauses above. I hated it. My black widow coat, bought when my now 23 year old was in a pram and it was practical with a hood, was falling apart. It was kept because (see above) well who knows why?

It could not come to the new small house.

Two beautiful velvet jackets bought on sale over 20 years ago, worn one season only. Donated. They fitted my colour criteria but were too small. A suit from Planet purchased in the sales, which was too small for me when I bought it, still had the label on it and kept because someday I may lose weight for 20 plus years also left the closet and went to charity.

Even after the move I am continually finding clothes I did not wear or like. I have a bag by the front door and daily I take something to the charity shop.

I found the most beautiful cardigan in December 2015. Not only beautiful, it met my colour criteria and is ethically made.

The two I had put up with for a couple of years that were made of acrylic and worn only because they were all I had, went.

I have done more than one sock cull. Now I only have 7 pairs, made by the same ethical company who made my lovely cardigan.

When my mom died I had the job of tackling her closet. Incredibly organised, tops in one wardrobe, trousers in another, jewelry in bags and labelled, yet 99% of it she never wore.

She had 4 Burberries, two duffel coats and numerous jackets. All top notch brands. It was the process of dealing with her highly organised clutter that made me realise that I needed to deal with my hidden hoarding.

And 333 helped. I look back over the past year – and I am happy with my pared down wardrobe. And it is meeting all my requirements while I house sit in Melbourne. Once on the road, travelling, most will be packed in compression bags and out will come the shorts and linen trousers as the weather (I hope) warms up. And some may go to the op shop.

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Update December 2016. 12 kilos of clothes were donated to the Op Shops of Melbourne. Since coming home, more clothes have left the building. Including two more coats. Two jackets were bought in Melbourne – down jackets that are very light and pack up very small. Perfect for travelling, needed very much so in the NT at night and in Tassie. Perfect for English winters, English weather all year round tbh. Minimalism and decluttering and Project 333 are not about not buying, nor about going without for me. They are ways to simplify and streamline my life and not having things in my life that no longer serve a purpose.



KonMari, folding socks and saying goodbye to the wedding dress

What keeps me awake at night is having too much of everything

You would think I have more to think about, being in Melbourne wouldn’t you? I do. And I will write about fabulous food, trams, fashion, old friends, coffee, brunch, penguins, soon. But this is what keeps me awake at night. KonMari and worrying about bringing too many clothes on the trip.

Socks and how many is too many?

I have spent the best part of 4 years decluttering. And there is still a way to go. Today, as happens sometimes, I pondered on how many pairs of socks I need.

Tackling the clutter then and now

When I wrote this about going through my overfull wardrobe I got my sock collection down to 24 pairs. I thought that was an achievement. How I have changed since then.


Then I had at least ten sets of bed linen, duvets and pillows cluttering up my wardrobe. I kept them because they may come in useful one day.

I had numerous items of clothing I had never worn. Some with labels still attached. Those and my wedding dress, organised in plastic garment bags. Taking up space.

Scarves and tights were all beautifully organised because I had the space to do so. Never used nor needed any of them. Even when organised, excess stuff is still clutter.


Since writing the posts about decluttering my wardrobes, I have moved house, downsizing considerably. There is one small closet and one chest of drawers between two people. I had to seriously rethink how many clothes we needed.

Adopting the KonMari approach

Out of season clothes are packed in compressor bags. Dresses, shirts and jumpers are in the closet on good quality hangers. All t shirts, trousers, socks and underwear are folded based on the Marie Kondo or KonMari method. Socks have been reduced to one pair of warm ones, one pair for my trainers and seven pairs of colourful socks made from bamboo. All the dull black ones have left the house. I am slowly replacing my husband’s plain socks with colourful ones too. I used to think having all black socks made them easier to pair, but no, bright ones are so much easier. And more fun. And only 14 socks not 48 to match up.

Socks and all undies folded as per KonMari method and now fit into one small drawer, folded and stacked vertically so I can see what is what. Ditto for the husband.

My wedding dress was donated to charity. I kept it for over 30 years and I have no idea why. I still have the memories and the photos. All I need.

Thermals have been reduced to three items only, new house is not as cold as old house. They are needed for cold winters and camping in the outback. They will be my jim jams when we camp in Australia.

Bed linen now reduced to four sets. Two for each bed. That is all I will ever need. All the rest went to Brushstrokes, a charity that supports refugees and asylum seekers. All the spare duvets and pillows also went there, as did most of my towels. I kept one set of bath towels for each of us, with two spare for guests/days when I wash and the rare times I can’t dry them in a day.

Most of the scarves have gone to charity. I kept two pashminas as they are so versatile and the felt wrap as that was hand made by my friend and is beautiful and useful and as per the KonMari method, sparks joy.

The clothes with labels still attached?  Gone to a charity shop. The beaded dress is still with me. One day I will find the right home for it.

What do I miss?

Do I miss having 24 pairs of socks? No. Do I love having just one small drawer for my smalls? Yes. Those stupid organisers I used, they took up too much space. Folding is better. It is. I do not miss any of the clothes I have let go of.

No more laundry heaps

Do I run out of smalls and socks? No. That is because I wash clothes two or three times a week. I use the coldest, shortest wash cycle. The next machine I buy for the new kitchen will have a 15 minute wash cycle. Most clothes don’t get dirty, they just need refreshing. I don’t have lots of clothes hanging around the house draped over radiators (I won’t have any of those soon) nor piles of clean laundry to put away. One to wash, one to wear and one spare is what I am aiming for.

I used to have umpteen baskets of clean and dirty clothes all over the house, with wet washing draped on radiators. And we all had plenty of clothes to wear, despite this. I could go a fortnight without washing any clothes. Now I can’t. I like washing every other day or so. Small loads, uses less water, less detergent and takes less time to dry.

Less is more

Project  333 is how I dress now. I base my wardrobe around two key colours and everything coordinates. I have worn the same jewelry for over 18 months now.

If I buy new clothes, I apply the one in, two out rule. After years of not buying a winter coat I got a new one, in the sales. A Jack Wolfskin lightweight, super warm coat. Great for travelling as it is light and I can compress it down if packing it. Two coats left the house destined for the charity shops. One was a duffel coat that had belonged to my mother, warm but heavy, the other a charity shop bargain that was 10 years old and was too big for me. One warm coat, one light jacket and one pacamac is all I need. I brought two with me to Australia, one is currently back in Britain as the person I am housesitting for needed a light mac for Scottish weather, I needed one for Melbourne weather, or so we thought. We don’t.

De cluttering is not easy

I would be the first to tell anyone that decluttering is hard work. We form attachments to stuff. We hold onto old habits. Getting rid of clothes can be difficult. I know, my heart was wrenched parting with the wedding dress. I have held on to my loved worn once beaded dress, which is crazy really. We can justify having duplicates to cut down on laundry. Here’s the thing you can wash one pair of socks 100 times or 100 socks once. The labour, water, time remains the same.

I don’t miss anything

I don’t miss my wedding dress. No room for sentimentality.  I don’t miss my socks. No room for excess clothes. I really do like having fewer clothes. And in the next few months I will be offloading a few more.








Go travelling while you can – don’t wait for someday

I have to go travelling while I still can.

Travel is in my DNA.

“When I was very young and the urge to be someplace else was on me, I was assured by mature people that maturity would cure this itch. When years described me as mature, the remedy prescribed was middle age… perhaps senility will do the job. Nothing has worked. Four hoarse blasts of a ships’s whistle still raise the hair on my neck and set my feet to tapping… I fear this disease incurable.” – John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley

My aunt, the day before she died, said to me ‘I wish I had seen more of the world instead of looking after everyone else, and doing what I thought was the right thing’. My mother, the traveller, had no such regrets.

And while we had the concerns over the health of the his mom, my mother in law, Phil and I knew that we will continue travelling.

She died while we were away in Sorrento. Phil had spent two days and nights at her bedside in hospital before we went away. The nurses said that he must still go on the planned holiday.

Phil has a brother. My local minister and former work colleague reminded me of this when I expressed my concerns about our forthcoming extended travel plans, before Val passed. At the time she had just gone to a nursing home and we hoped her health would improve. As the minister said, Chris, the brother,  will be there while you are away. Phil discussed this with his brother. What they will do if this happens while we are away, hence the aforementioned family commitments.

My 84 year old friend, who travelled extensively after her retirement said much the same. ‘You cannot put your life on hold, the outcome will be the same whatever you do. Travelling was the best thing I did, it enriched my life so much’.

And so before the extended travel commences in July we booked some time away as Phil was exhausted with driving 3 hours to visit his mom every other week. With hospital visits and worries about finding a nursing home that didn’t smell. He was anxious about her and needed a break.

Val had had a lovely day with her family the weekend before she passed away.  She went home, gave her granddaughter a beautiful ring  and went to her local pub for dinner. She did seem to be in better health. The timing seemed right to go away for a few days.

But Sepsis had different plans and by the following Tuesday the nursing home had to admit her to hospital.

We had been in Sorrento one night and she passed away, with her son Chris by her side. Yes we felt sad and guilty but we knew it was going to happen but not when.

We stayed in Sorrento and filled the days with extensive sight seeing and walking. It helped. Chris did all the necessary and immediate things that needed to be done, and on our return we joined him and supported him to do everything else we had to do.

Now, a few weeks later, we have had the funeral in Winchester and the remembrance service in Yorkshire. We have spent more time with family than we usually do. Caught up with people we haven’t seen for many years. This happens when people die. We have cried and we have laughed. Shared happy memories. Discovered interesting things when sorting through possessions including some amazing photos on old slides.

These pictures were the turning point in their grief, for Phil and Chris. They rediscovered their childhood. Saw their parents at happier times, as they remembered them. The mom and dad they grew up with. Having spent months seeing their mom getting older and unrecognisable at times, took its toll on both of them. Discovering these photos and sharing them with people in Yorkshire who went to school with their parents evoked so many happy memories. Talking about the old days, the happy times, it healed them.

I met the minister again yesterday and told him about this. Thanked him for his wise words. They had helped us to remember that we have support from family. We don’t have to do everything, we can ask for help. And remember to laugh. Death is sad, of course it is. As the minister told me yesterday, it is good to recall happy memories and laugh. That is what we did, I told him, dinner with the family, we cherished our times together and laughed.

There is still a lot to do. Paperwork, mountains of it. A house to clear, major decluttering (so far 30 bags to charity and the same to the tip) some more legal stuff, a house to sell. We had made a start when she was in hospital. It is a big job. 80 plus years of memories in dusty boxes.

Phil was making lists of lists and worrying  about all we had to do. He got stressed again so I booked another, more relaxing, holiday to Skiathos after the funeral.

We cannot tick all the things off before we go to Australia in July. We can’t. So we won’t. We will do what we can. Prioritise the legal things. Trying to fit everything in  a tight schedule will exhaust all of us. And will make use feel failures because we won’t succeed. Our health and well being, and that of the family, has to come first.

We will carry on when get home in November. We can put some things on hold. Just not life.




Conversations at the corner cafe – letting go of the past

Letting go of stuff is hard. Decluttering takes longer than you think it will. I am still getting rid of crap after over three years of tackling my house full of stuff I held on to. Why do we hold on to stuff that we no longer need?

This past week I met two women at my local café. Both had grown children who had left their family home over 20 years ago. And both had rooms still full of their kids stuff.

This enrages me, it really does. How dare children use their parents house as a free storage facility? For a short while maybe. When they first leave home, but for twenty years? Really?

The first lady I met told me that she had a pile of programmes from rock concerts her son had attended over the years.  And all his uni books.

She told me that she’d love to make her middle bedroom tidy for when people came to stay. The people who come to stay are her son, his partner and her grandchildren. I could tell that having the room stuffed full of other people’s possessions which are too heavy for her to move made her unhappy.

As she talked to me I could see she was close to tears.

She fought the tears back as she spoke about her late husband. Recently widowed and overwhelmed by having  not been able to sort through her husband’s clothes. I understand this. It takes time, the grieving process. You have to find the right time to start sorting the clothes.

The kids stuff? Why would she hold on to this? Why did she let them do this to her?

In addition to the son using her house as if it was the Big Yellow Self Storage facility, her daughter in law also abused her generosity. The DIL had expressed an interest in a piece of furniture that her mother in law wanted to get rid of. It was still in her house two years later,  as they were not ready for it yet. Two years of not being ready. Dear daughter in law,  you said you wanted it so come and get it.

I asked her why she allowed them to do this to her. She explained that at first it was because hers son had lived on a barge and had no space.

‘He lives in a big house now, has done for over 20 years.’

‘Why is his stuff still in your house?’

‘Because I’m soft.’

As she spoke she looked away, her eyes wet with unshed tears.

Her son was coming to stay the weekend.

‘This is your opportunity to ask him to take his stuff then. If he won’t, let him know that it will be put in the bin.’

‘Oh,  he will tell me not to because the programmes may be worth something.’

‘All the more reason for him to have them then. If he really wants them he will take them.’

She was visibly shocked at that suggestion. The idea of upsetting him disturbed her. I guess we always have to be nice to our kids, even when they hurt us.

‘Start sending them a monthly storage invoice, see what happens.’

She smiled.

‘They will think I am joking. They will laugh and throw it away.’

At this point my incredulity became outrage.

‘They will laugh at you?’

I think she could see how shocked I was at that. Now my kids laugh at me all the time. When I can’t remember the name of the song that we heard on a boat tip back in 2007 they laugh, when I don’t know which remote to use to get Netflix, they laugh. I don’t think they would laugh if I invoiced them for storage for 20 years, I think they would work out I was serious. Like the time I cut the plug off the TV, serious.

‘Do you really wanted to get that middle bedroom clear? Because if you do, you have to take action. The choice is yours.’

‘Oh well,  when I am gone they will have to sort it then won’t they?’

‘Yes they will and let me tell you, it is horrible.’

I told her about my mom and her stuff. How I had promised my children that they will never have to go through what I had to.

Will she do anything about it? I don’t know. She is the one that has to take action. It doesn’t bother her son that his mother has to live with all his crap. It doesn’t bother her daughter in law that the chair she said she wanted is in her mother in law’s way. They would laugh if she sent them a bill. That is how much they respect her.

By this point I was incandescent with rage and she admitted that she had only found out that her son was coming over to stay with her that weekend via her grand-daughter. The grand-daughter who calls her every day to chat. Her son had not thought to let her know. I could see that this had made her cross.

Now maybe he thought it would be a lovely Mothering Sunday surprise for her. The thing is, she was worried that she needed to get extra food and make up a bed for him, his wife and her grandson. In the rooms full of his crap.

He hadn’t thought about that. And as a son he really needed to realise that unexpected house guests, although welcome, create work.

‘Let’s go to Mom’s and surprise her, she can cook her special roast this Sunday. That will be a nice treat for her.’

Meanwhile mom is thinking about the mess they will leave behind.

I hope I am wrong on this one. I hope he has booked somewhere lovely to take her. I do. Because one day she won’t be there for him on Mothering Sunday. One day he will have to sift through her old photos, her clothes and her personal papers. One day he will have to decide what he is going to do with the concert programmes that he treasures so much that he can’t be bothered to move them out of his old bedroom.

She had one consolation, her granddaughter calls her every day. The thoughtfulness skipped a generation perhaps.

A few days later I met the second woman at the café. She too had grown children who also expected her to keep their rooms as they were when they were kids. They were in their 40’s and thought this was OK. It’s not.

She reasoned she had the space and it didn’t worry her as much as it clearly upset the first woman I had spoken to.

‘They can sort it when I am gone, it will be their problem eventually.’

It wasn’t getting in her way or holding her back as it was with the other woman.

She had come to do some clothes shopping and hadn’t been to Bearwood for some time. While I wondered where on earth she could go shopping for clothes in Bearwood, I heard these words.

‘I’m a shopaholic.’

When someone tells me a shopaholic I feel the urge to rescue them. I stopped shopping many years ago. To be accurate, I stopped buying things I didn’t need when I started decluttering.

‘I don’t like shopping.’

I understand this statement can baffle a person who loves to shop.

Here’s the thing, I do like shopping.  I like buying good quality food at a farmer’s market and engaging with the producers. I hate shopping in a big supermarkets where everything is over packaged. I like shopping at Mistral in Winchester where the clothes fit me and where the sales staff remember me from a month ago, asking how the mother in law is, remembering she is in hospital. The same staff that know that I only wear certain colours and find the items for me.

I like shopping in John Lewis where staff know their products and explain the pros and cons of sound systems without patronising me.  Who explain why one is not worth £700 more despite what I have been told elsewhere.  I like buying lovely tech that will simplify my life. Tech that will enable my husband to let go of the vinyl records, the hundreds of CD’s and complicated sound systems that clutter our house. Tech that enables me to click and listen to music I like and not waste an hour looking for one CD.

But I digress. My point is that I don’t get the buying rush that shopaholics get. I don’t have hundreds of clothes in my closet with the price tag still attached. The Bull Ring is not the temple I worship at and I wouldn’t go to Poundland and fill my house with crap because it only costs a pound.

After her first reaction of shock on meeting a woman who doesn’t shop for leisure,  she confessed to having wardrobes of designer clothes that she no longer wears. She listed the labels, Betty Barclay, Jaeger, Austin Reed. She had needed them for her work as she had to be smart when she ran her business.  Some outfits were bought for weddings, and apparently you can only wear those once.  I could hear her justifying every purchase. Thank goodness we didn’t get on to the subject of shoes.

She couldn’t bear to get rid of them because they had were so expensive.

‘Will you ever wear them again?’

‘No, they no longer fit me. Some I have had for over 30 years, they are all too small now.’

We discussed ways of how she could let them go.

‘Could you sell them online?’

‘I wouldn’t know how to.’

Could you ask your children to show you?’

‘They are too busy.’

‘What about donating them?’

Giving to charity shops worried her for two reasons. She believed that the staff and volunteers took all the good clothes. She also was alarmed that the big charities paid their chief executives six figure salaries, so only a small percent went to help those in need.

I explained why I give my unwanted items to Acorns. It is a local charity, helping local families. As it is small charity, so the structure is not as corporately complex as some of the bigger charities are. I know the manager there and she doesn’t skim off the good clothes for herself. None of them do, they can’t run like that.

I could see her thinking this over. She liked the idea of donating to local hospices. It eased her to think that more of what is raised would go directly to help people who were terminally ill.

Perhaps now she has the lies that The Daily Fail implants in its readers brains erased, she will go to her closet and take one item to a charity shop. Perhaps.

Two conversations. Two women with very different lives. Two women with the same issues.

Both holding onto the past.

One allows her son to take her for granted. She lets this happen because she needs to keep his childhood intact and make him happy – her son was clearly her life and this way she still has him. Being recently bereaved, this would be important to her. I get that. Yet she wanted to move on. Not being able to sort the middle room vexed her. This was possibly what was stopping her from sorting through the clothes of her late husband. Tidying away the past to make room for the present.

The lady with her clothes, they were her status symbols. They now only remind her of the person she used to be, the slim sucessful business woman with spending power. They represented her past, not her life now.  A constant reminder of what once was, holding her back.

It clearly worried them both as they were so keen to tell me their stories. Why would they open up to a total stranger they met in cafe? Why tell me things they have possibly not told anyone else?

How can I be so sure of their reasons for not letting go? Because their story is my story.

I had closets full of clothes that were too small for me. Too expensive to give to charity, I told myself. The silk Monsoon dress, the Viyella trouser suit, with price tags still attached. They were too small for me when I bought them but they were on sale at a vastly reduced price. I got them twenty years ago. The velvet jacket I loved that no longer fitted me.  I held onto them all as I would lose the weight, someday. There’s that dangerous word again.

The Moses basket and the cot sheets and blankets had been in the attic for 17 years. Mom had bought the basket when my son was born over 23 years ago. The sheets and blankets were 60 years old, given to me by my mother in law, she had used them for her two sons. How could I possibly part with them?

A room full of stuff my daughter no longer wanted nor needed. Uni books, school reports, old birthday cards. There were some old clothes hanging in her wardrobe including her beautiful frock she bought in Sydney for her leavers ball.  I loved that dress. I really must keep that.

Why is my story different to these two women? Because I don’t have this stuff any more.

And life is better because of it.

I took the  cot blankets to Acorns. My son is grown, he doesn’t need them, I had to let go of the child he once was.

I asked my daughter about her stuff. She reminded me that she’d been telling me for years to get rid of it. It wasn’t her using my house as the free storage facility, it was me that was holding onto this stuff. Holding onto my past, a little bit of the child my daughter used to be.

Her dress and my still labelled clothes went to charity. Let someone else enjoy wearing them.

We don’t need them anymore.







Unclutter your life – You need to start today

Accept that it will take more time than you think

I have spent the last three years or so uncluttering. My mother died in 2013 and I had to empty her room. Several car loads of clothes, jewelry, shoes, photographs and anything else she could cram in there, were transferred to my house to sort. This is why you need to unclutter your life today.

Then I started on my stuff. I recognised I had inherited some of her clutter gathering traits and I promised my kids that they would never have to deal with all this stuff when I die.

And now it is the mother in law.  She is ill and in hospital. Possibly not returning to her own home, at least in the short term.


Sick house syndrome

Like my mother’s room, the mother in laws house has what I call sick house syndrome. It is not just the lack of good housekeeping in what was once a house proud home.  It has stale air, it is dusty and long term sickness, loneliness and regret seeps from the walls and floors and the furniture.

Mountains of paper

And there is paper everywhere. On every windowsill, in boxes, on worktops, in cupboards. The filing cabinet needs fixing. Every drawer in the desk was stuffed with letters from solicitors, accountants, and the tax man. Opened and returned to the envelopes, not dealt with. A copy of the Radio Times from 1991 and Damart catalogues, piled up with information from the council and the manuals for the central heating stuffed in a plastic bag that toilet rolls are usually packed in.

Every pile needs to be sifted. I instructed the brother-in-law, on his house clearing shift, to get all the letters from each organisation and collate in date order. The stuff he didn’t think was important was set aside for me to sift.

In the unimportant pile I found all her diaries, the Fensa certificates, three Parker pens and some photographs. And her late husband’s driving licence.

She kept every order of service of every wedding and funeral she has attended. And the letter her mother wrote to her Great Aunt announcing her (my mother in law’s)birth .

A series of magazines about World War Two that my husband collected as a boy. Letters from the Bishop of Birmingham thanking her father for his contribution to the parish.

It is not easy to know what to keep and what to discard when you are dealing with other people’s memories. I err on the safe side. The Damart catalogues and the Radio Times can go. The diaries and the letters are kept.

Unfinished letters to cousins and friends are everywhere. Were they drafts? Did she forget she had written them? Or did she change her mind? I keep them. I do not know the answer to these questions.

Don’t hoard food

Meanwhile my husband clears the fridge and the freezer. Seven frozen guinea fowl and a chicken. One bought each month from February to July. Five packets of smoked salmon. Half a dozen loaves. Two ready meals from 2014. In the fridge there are dried lumps of cheese, a half used tub of cream cheese with mould, pate, more smoked salmon, three tubs of margarine, all well past their use by date. As much as Phil and I hate to waste food, we reluctantly put it in black bags to be disposed of at the tip.

Then there is the wine. Every few months a representative from Pieroth would pop in and sell her £500 worth of wine. She liked the company of the charming young man. He liked his commision. I counted over 100 bottles, stored in the spare bedroom, her bedroom and the kitchen. We have since contacted them and told them to refrain from visiting her again. This type of selling verges on Elder Abuse.

The best legacy you can leave to your friends and family is a decluttered house

When I wrote about the best legacy you can leave your children, my mind was on an empty attic and paperwork in order.  Re reading it for this post, I added this.

Addendum: February 2016.  I am now helping mother in law with similar decluttering tasks while she is ill in hospital. I would add these to the best legacy you can leave your family:  a recent will, a living power of attorney and a pre paid funeral. Mom left me two of these, the will and the pre paid funeral. It made the awfulness of her death easier in many ways. A power of attorney was not needed, thankfully, yet it is something to be considered. Today.

Phil and I have made wills. I am now looking  at organising a Living Power of Attorney and pre paying for our funerals. Cheerful stuff it is not. Practical it is. My experience in the past few years, dealing with the clutter, the paperwork and organising funerals and looking at care homes, has made me realise that you need to do this for your kids too. All we know about the Mother in Law is what hymns she wants. And for her ashes to be with her husband’s ashes, in Aysgarth.

Don’t keep stuff ‘just in case’

In my decluttering mode, after the wardrobe, the books and the attic, I got rid of most of the towels, bed linen and dozens of spare pillows. All stored neatly in piles in the cupboard, just in case but never used. No room for them here in the small house so now it is two sets of linen per bed, one bath towel each, one for a guest and 4 hand towels.

It is old not vintage – unclutter now

Mother in Law has about 50 towels and a dozen sets of bed linen. Her bath mat was at least 50 years old and was crumbling. The toilet brush and holder has  got to be 30 years old going by the floral design. While I hate to dispose of perfectly serviceable items and hate how almost everything now has built-in obsolescence sometimes things really have to go. We made 12 trips to our local tip before we moved house to downsize. We make a a couple of trips to the tip each time we go to Winchester where the mother in law lives.

Get rid of clutter before you buy more storage

Clutter is so often an indicator of poor mental health. Most of us hold on to things of sentimental value and that is ok. I am having  childhood books that were gathering dust into 3D pictures so that I can see and enjoy them.

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Blind Ted is going to live in the she shed with Fred Bear and other childhood toys that are simply not safe enough to give to any child, with the Ladybird book and the Beatrix Potter collection. The she shed will be our entertainment area with a vintage theme. The house will be minimalist.

When I was house hunting I was drawn to a property with a garden room so I could hide all the stuff I couldn’t fit in the house. Fortunately I realised this and and eventually we chose a small house where we can’t hide the clutter. We are over full, yet refuse to hire a storage unit, because that will just be hiding the stuff, not dealing with it. Organised stuff is still stuff. Building cupboards or rooms to hold the stuff you may need someday is organised clutter.

Do they spark joy?

I gave away most of my books. Phil is sifting the vinyl and the CDs. Most will go and we will get a Sonos system for the small house. We apply the Maria Kondo rule of decluttering keeping only things that ‘spark sufficient joy or are truly necessary’ – it takes time, it is not easy, it is a journey.

Overwhelm – it gets worse before it gets better

If you came to my house today you would think I had lied in all my posts about my decluttering. We still have too much stuff. Last week it overwhelmed me, I was full of self doubt, no progress was being made and I was fed up of being surrounded by furniture too big for the house and having to be a yoga master to operate the oven. And then I realised that we had only been in the new house for 10 weeks, with Christmas stealing time and bad weather preventing us from doing more sifting. Every other weekend has involved a long journey to visit the mother in law and sort her stuff. I reminded myself that I will have an innovative builder who will transform my tiny kitchen and falling down outhouses to make the house open plan, functional and minimalist. I know that sounds contradictory, having an extension built. Cooking and entertaining sparks joy – and there is no joy in the poorly planned current kitchen. Ping meals are challenging.

Let it go

If you find yourself holding onto stuff because it was expensive, or it may be useful, but are not using it, I urge you to let go.  Being surrounded by clutter suppresses you. Being surrounded by clutter makes cleaning a chore. If you have to move stuff to find stuff you have too much stuff.

I still have too much stuff. Do you?

Here is a list to help you to let go of stuff you really do not need to keep. How many of these do you have?

Addendum August 2016

Things change with remarkable speed. Mom in Law passed away in April. She never really recovered after her operation. Her house remains full of most of  the stuff she accumulated over the years as we had plans to be away for 4 months. I am now in Melbourne, house sitting. Brought two big suitcases full of clothes we do not need. Stuff happened just before I packed and I lost it. Life gave me lemons  I realise now (after counselling and overpacking) that I have a way to go. So I am off loading clothes to op shops, enjoying doing nothing some days, apart from talk to dogs and read. Other days exploring Melbourne, teaching my husband about blogging and helping him launch Sleeve Notes  and eating brunch. I am sleeping better, my skin is better, walking more than ever (except for days when I read a whole book in one day) and looking forward to lots of adventures.




Too much stuff

I have moved. This is the third week in the new house I share with my husband and our gamer son.

New houseWeek one we had no internet or TV. Week two we had managed to unpack the tv and find somewhere to place it and watch DVD’s and then Netflix once we got internet. Week three and we now have Sky and internet. It is winter, it is cold, wet and dark so these things are important. More so when the small rooms in the small house can’t take all the furniture you brought with you from the big house with big rooms and you are therefore living in chaos.

And sometimes I wonder if it was a big mistake and I just want to cry.


Before the move I emptied three bedrooms, donating most of the furniture to charity.

I had been decluttering for many months. I gave all my fancy china to Mad as a Hatter, a local tea shop and the rest of the excess cutlery and plates went to local charities. A friend came to help with the packing and it took four hours to pack the kitchen. We only had two days notice that we were going to move and I thought we had it in hand. We didn’t.

The person buying our big house came round and measured up, she was making a plan for where all her furniture would go. I hoped she would want to keep our breakfast bar table. She didn’t, so now it is a temporary place for the gamer to game.

I wish I’d had the time and the inclination to have measured up and make a floor plan. Instead it has been a game of box Tetris, to create a living area that we don’t have to climb over chairs to get to the kitchen.

We have stored the boxes in the outhouses and under the stairs. Some we used as tables for the first few days as we struggled to negotiate our way through the small rooms surrounded by chairs, oversized furniture and stuff.

One of the three beds we brought with us to the two bedroom house would not go up the stairs. Yes three beds came with to the small house. I didn’t know which one would fit best in the smaller bedroom. Turns out that as it was not possible to get big bed into the big bedroom, bringing three beds was not such a daft idea. Except that the big beds headboard and mattress bases,would not go up the stairs so were left in one living room. The mattress that did go up the stairs we had to prop up on the narrow landing, and for a week we had to slide against the other wall to reach the bathroom. It took us six days to find the box of shoes. I still haven’t found my computer mouse.

On the day of the move, at 4 pm I booked us into a local hotel. There was no way we were ever going to get two beds built that evening. Best decision ever.

Refreshed after a good night sleep and a proper breakfast, we returned to the house with a plan to make it livable. First thing was to build the beds. We decided where to place the furniture and we wondered why we had brought broken chairs with us. The old, large microwave that was never going to fit into the tiny kitchen in the small house went outside with all the other stuff that we could not keep.The back yard resembled the set of Steptoe and Son.

The tiny kitchen is really tiny. Add to that the cat litter tray and the cat basket taking up floor space, because we had to keep the cats in for the first few days so that they would not run away and that is a nightmare of a kitchen scenario.

Friends with small kitchens had no sympathy when I told them. Yes I used to have to a huge kitchen that hid all the crap, but this is really small I said. I made them visit.

Oh they said, you cannot cook in this kitchen. Where did they keep food? The drawers are tiny. You need some shelves. Yes, the kitchen is tiny.

Of course I knew the kitchen was small when we bought the house and it was always the plan to extend the kitchen into the falling down outhouses outside. In the meantime we have installed a surplus book-case in the kitchen for storage.

All I need now is to find a builder. And who has kitchens extended in the winter? We are managing with one pot meals and I can use the oven if I move the cat basket and do yoga. We are going out to lunch on Christmas Day, thank goodness.

A summer-house is coming on January 7th 2016. It will eventually be a she shed utilising some of the furniture that does not fit in the house. However,we will store and sort the stuff that is in boxes there. Boxes that we have to move out of the outhouse as we need to knock it down to extend the kitchen.

Slowly we are clearing the excess furniture.The big bed found a new home, with a friend whose bed had broken. The broken chairs, the big microwave and about a hundred spare coat hangers (remnants of when I cleared my closet) have gone to the tip. This was our first visit to the Sandwell Tip, as the 10 previous trips to the tip were to a Birmingham one.

I am certain that I will give more stuff to charities. We have to decide what furniture we can keep – pieces that are both beautiful and useful – but don’t fit the house. The chest of drawers destined for the bedroom to store clothes won’t go up the stairs. The bureau fits into the alcove, but that is where the TV will go as we want to fit both sofas in one room so that three of us can spend time together and we can invite guests to the house.

I think we should sell them but they are not mine, they came to us to us from my husbands grandfather and mother. Husband wants to keep them for sentimental reasons. Neither of our children will want them when we are no longer here. And the plan was to have this house as a base, an investment and a home for our son while we go off travelling in a camper van and house sit around the world. Both of us need to stop holding on to stuff for sentimental reasons.

And if we want to travel we don’t need bureaus and huge chests of drawers. Perhaps they can go in the she shed? I just don’t know.

The move to a small house was to help us streamline our possessions and make a home that was cheap to run and easy to keep clean. I do not want my children to go through what I had to when my mother passed away. I am decluttering for my kids.

The improvements we make will add value, and make the house more saleable in three to five years. The road is a sought after road where houses sell overnight. Some are let out to young professional couples mostly it is mostly families that live here. The children call for each other in the morning to walk to school together. There is a park at the end of the road that is having millions of Heritage Lottery money spent on it. I can park outside my house. You do not know what joy this gives me. I love the street that I now live on.

The move was the right thing to do. But I need to get rid of the stuff I do not need, do not have room for.

I have to find a space for a Christmas tree.

Then I need to go travelling.


The storm will pass

While going through letters – travel memories and discoveries made

The house move is imminent and the cupboard full of letters, cringeworthy teenage diaries and my school books and reports. Memories, good and bad. They have to be tackled.

Hurricane Katy is still blowing everything around, and the news is full of gloom so I decided that this could be the day to do this job.

It is harder than the photos. They took a long time, but I was prepared for the task and knew most were duplicates. The letters, they are a challenge. My mother kept every letter I had ever sent to her. Every postcard. I kept all the letters she sent to me. Every letter my school friends sent. Telling stories of romance, marriage, motherhood, divorce, bereavement. And they have to go. This was the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s and then we hand wrote pages and pages, sharing our ups and downs to our closest friends. Now everything is posted daily on Facebook.

Mom keeping everything from her travels and labelling them in shoe boxes. So do I.

I listened to a programme on Radio 4 about Obsession this week. The link to it is here but will only be available until mid December 2015. During the programme they talked about Charles Darwin, his anxiety, insomnia and his passion for collecting things. Cataloging and naming – feeding a system against loss. His great-great granddaughter Ruth Padel wrote The Miser, a poem about this obsession for collecting. Organised, cataloged stuff, is still clutter.

I have old tickets and leaflets to remind me of my travels. Just like Mom.

My first airline ticket. and ID to go to Austria, skiing in 1974 I didn’t have a passport then.

A cabin card from 1971. My first time abroad, to Norway. My school organised a several trips, Norway, Germany, Austria, and my mom worked hard to save up the money so that I could go. Thanks Mom. Sowing the seeds of a life of travel.

Yet every bit of paper has a story to tell.  Like this one.

On Saturday 11 August 1979 I watched The Trojan Women by Euripides being performed in the Ancient Theatre of Epidavros. A play I had studied at school. That 14 year old schoolgirl never imagined in her wildest dreams that one day she would visit Greece see the play in an ancient theatre in Greece. A wet week in Weston in a caravan was her highlight.

I can remember that day as clear as if it were last week. As I had studied the play at school,  I was explaining the plot to my fellow travellers.

Later we went to a taverna where nearly all the other customers were soldiers, who kept sending us wine. Afterwards we went to the beach in the VW camper and had a disco, and almost got arrested. We did have to go to the police station. Fortunately the Greek people we were with, Penny and Antony Marinos, were children of someone important in the government (their parents had met when they were spies in WW2) so all charges against the driver and owner of the VW were dropped. I crawled into the nearest fishermans boat at 2 am to finally get to sleep. It was 1979. I was a student and this was Greece.

School also sowed the seeds of wanderlust. My geography folders were full of tales of travel and tea growing.

I never imagined I would go to a country where I would see people picking tea. But I have.

I dreamed big and it happened. And now the past has been revisited I am ready to let go. Ready for the future. New journeys to make and new people to meet.


Just looked up the Greek family I stayed with in Kifissia Athens – I found the family name on some notes I had made. Marinos. Turns out their father was a bit of a war hero in Special Ops. Themistocles Marinos. He was involved in Operation Harling. An academic, and advisor to the UN and Deputy General Manager of the State Railways too. I remember his wife more than him.

I recall that they kept cold water in a Gordons Gin bottle and had very green lawns in their very elegant villa in the suburbs. The bravest are often the most humble. May also explain why the family were involved in a parachuting scene in James Bond movies……. although I cannot find any links to this. Yet.

I then looked up Penny and found more about the family. I remember the mother telling us she was writing a book about the aubergine. Prospero’s Kitchen. Seems this has been relaunched, how exciting.

All this from sorting through old letters! And yes, some of this pile, the memories that have made me smile, are coming to the new house.




Unclutter my life – stop holding onto stuff ‘just in case’

I am downsizing. Big time. From a sprawling 3 storey, 6 bed Edwardian townhouse to a 2 bed Victorian terrace.

There will be nowhere to hide anything that is not useful, very little room for anything that is beautiful, so the stuff has to go. As William Morris said:

“Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

The useful have been culled (no one needs 10 frying pans) the beautiful will be curated (too many dust gathering, useless ornaments and too many pictures that don’t reflect my taste). The Poole Biscuit Barrel met both beautiful and useful criteria so will come to the new house with us. The rest, donated.

Phil, my husband, and I emptied the attic a couple of weeks back and it was truly shocking what crap we had hidden in there. This week we tackled the cellar. Surely the damp, empty cellar would not hold any horrors.

It did. I knew the top box for the car was there (which we have used twice) and the Brio train track (there for 15 years plus) but not the unopened packs of insulation material that were in the attic when we moved here 17 years ago. There were empty plastic bottles we were saving to make a greenhouse. Straight into the recycling. Soggy cardboard boxes. Empty bags that coal had been delivered in. An old light fitting and an old tv stand. To the tip. Our 8th visit to the recycling centre.

Then I found the Lego

Star Wars and Indiana Jones Lego. Plus some odd bits from my youth. Gathering damp dust.

I have soaked it and scrubbed it. And found a new home for it.

Why didn’t I do this 10 years ago? Because I was hiding it in the cellar, holding onto stuff,  just in case.

I have been shocked at the amount of stuff that I have found while decluttering.  

Stuff that me, my husband and our son (to a lesser extent) have held onto. Just in case. Why did we do this?

It might be valuable

Oh the things we hold onto because they might be valuable. Check if it is valuable and if it is, decide whether you like it. If it fits neither criteria set down by William Morris, sell it.

I found some Turkish, never worn, gold jewellery amongst my mother’s vast jewellery collection. This did not meet the Morris criteria and so it was sold. The proceeds paid for a holiday for Phil and I. We went to Santorini where we scattered her ashes as she had requested.

I also found numerous £5 and 5 shilling coins. They were gifts from grannies and they lay around in various drawers. Taking up space, gathering dust like most unwanted gifts. My husband wanted to hold onto them because they may be valuable. I showed him this. They are not legal tender and they sell for very little on ebay. Let Acorns have the money.

It might come in useful someday

A dangerous word. Someday. If someday is code for never that stuff you are keeping will never be used and is dust gathering, space stealing clutter.

I have spent 3 years decluttering this house. Is that what you want to do? Is that what you want for your kids? Think about it for a moment. Is your clutter the legacy you want to leave for your children? They will thank you if you start clearing your stuff now. This is what has motivated me the most on this journey, that my children will not have to go through what I did when my mother died.

If in doubt, apply the 20/20 rule.

Anything we get rid of that we truly need, we can replace for less than $20 in less than 20 minutes from our current location.

The Minimalists

The Minimalists are a major influence in my approach to decluttering. They influenced the choice of house that I am moving to (no room to hide that clutter) and enabled me to let go of stuff.

Of course there are other reasons we hold onto stuff.

Sentimental reasons

Old letters

I recently found some letters from a close friend who I don’t see enough of. This person, 15 years ago, was going through a dreadful time. And BF, before Facebook, we wrote letters to off load. And we held on to them. The letters made me sad.  I threw them away as they were just reminders of bad times. They were the past. I can’t change that, but I can help that person now. In the present and in the future.






Childhood toys

I kept two teddies, one was mine and had belonged to my aunt, so is 60 something years old. The other is small and was a favourite of my son. the cot blankets were sent to charity, the old and forgotten Cabbage Patch Doll which was my daughters, discarded.

Thomas and friends. Held onto for 16 years. Just in case. Now being played with by the grandchildren of an old school friend. Loved and used toys. Not dust gathering space stealers.

Bionicle. Eventually let go by my son, who caught the decluttering bug. Held onto for years because they cost a lot of money to buy. Former dust gatherers and space stealers donated to Acorns and sold the day they went on display. £50 in the till for a charity.

Old diaries

I found one and as I read it it, I sobbed. Do I want to hold onto sad memories? No, I don’t. As for my teenage ones, cringeworthy and funny. Useful material when I was the parent of a teenage daughter. She is a grown woman now. It is going to be tough but they will go. So cringeworthy they will not be shared anywhere. May have to set them on fire.


I recently threw several thousands of photos away. It was a much needed thing to do that I had been putting off because many of them were my mothers. I can almost hear you gasp with horror.

You threw away photos, how could you? All those memories.

Many were duplicates, poor quality, or no reflection of what my life is now. The rule was that if I wouldn’t display them on the wall, why keep them? I kept the best, the happy ones.

I still have the memories. They are in my head, not on a piece of paper.

The kids artwork/cards

Photographed, blogged about, and recycled. I have kept a few items, yet I think once the move is over I will realise that more will have to go.

Decluttering is therapy

Going through the boxes has been very therapeutic. Discovering old photos that capture the family having good times together and love letters sent to Mom has reminded me of what I have. A past that shapes my future. A loving family. If it brought back an unhappy moment it was discarded.

My stuff defines who I am

I held onto books from my undergraduate days for over 30 years. I bought books, asked for books for gifts, kept all the books I bought the children. Both mine and my husbands childhood books were on shelves unread for decades and gathering dust. I have now reduced my book collection from 4 bookcases to 4 shelves on 1 bookcase. Two were selected to be made into unique artwork (beautiful) the rest have gone to friends and charity.

This shocked many people who know I love my books, who love their books.

How can you?

Because they no longer define who I am.

I am not the 19 year old student studying Bronte and Dickens. The print in those books was far to small for my older eyes. They are on Kindle. For free. I now borrow not buy. Libraries are my source for other printed books. Although the new Bill Bryson may just creep in.


Hundreds of cookbooks I never use (most recipes are online now).

Books gathering dust. I kept a few cookbooks that I use regularly.

I kept some travel books, Bill Bryson mostly, as I re read these often.

Childhood favorites from the 50’s and 60’s and a couple from the 30’s. Not valuable, but beautiful. These will be made into 3D pictures that will hang in my new house.

Self help books too. Having reaped the benefits of life coaching, I now found these are useful resources.

They all define who I am, now. Not who I used to be. And that is what decluttering has done for me, helped me define the authentic me. I am letting  go of the past. Planning a future for the person I am now.

A person who will not spend her life on the 9 to 5 treadmill, who will not be spending her free time cleaning a cluttered house. I will be a person who who writes and travels. Who inspires others to declutter. Living my authentic life. Life after normal.