Our emotional attachment to clothes

Yesterday I did a spring clean of my wardrobe, without exactly planning it. But as I was putting away a couple of scarves that had been hanging on the back of a chair, I pulled out a few that I never or seldom wear – and decided that it was time to let them go.  This snowballed into my shoes, then dresses and t-shirts, and even my jewellery.  In about half an hour I had two large bags ready to donate.

The change of season from winter to spring is always a good time for a review of our wardrobes.  We can look back at winter and check whether there are any items that just never got worn.  The same applies at the end of summer.  But in my case there were also quite a few items that I have been keeping for season upon season that I haven’t worn much or even at all.  This process got me thinking about why I had been keeping some of them for so long, and the reason was largely sentimental.  Now I don’t consider myself a sentimental person at all!  But yes, I have been keeping quite a few items for these reasons:

  1. A loved one or friend either gave me the item or complimented me when I wore it.
  2. They remind me of a special event, e.g. a friend’s wedding or a trip overseas.
  3. They represent a time in my life which was particularly happy or meaningful. For me this related mostly to a period in my twenties when I lived overseas and traveled widely. I still had clothes that I bought during this period. I am now in my late forties!
  4. They fit my mental picture of my personal dress style, which in fact is no longer realistic since my body shape has changed.

Apart from these sentimental reasons, there are other reasons why most of us hang onto clothes beyond their period of usefulness. These can include hopes of losing weight, or changing shape back to our more youthful selves, and fitting into certain items again. Or keeping corporate clothes in the hopes of returning to this type of work one day.  Some people just find the whole process of decluttering their wardrobe overwhelming and so ignore doing it for years.  A recent client of mine still had dresses from the 80s (complete with the requisite shoulder pads)!

I challenge you this spring to spend a couple of hours reviewing your wardrobe.  Why are you keeping the items that you seldom or never wear? Maybe it is time to let them go, accepting and choosing to enjoy fully the phase of life that you are in now, as reflected in the clothes that you wear on a regular basis.

Organise your books

Most of us have a collection of books at home that we have accumulated over the years. Books are interesting because they are deeply personal. They reflect a lot about who we are and our particular interests and passions. We also may have books that belonged to a loved one or go back to our childhood or a particular meaningful period of our lives. We hold onto them not for their content as much as for their link back to a person or a time.  Books make a home feel lived in and personal.

Some degree of decluttering is required in most of my projects. When it comes to books, this can be very hard for some clients because of the emotional attachment to many of them. However, when you have enough shelving space, you can continue to enjoy them all and leave the downsizing to one day in the future. This was the case recently when I was approached by a client to organise her personal collection of books. What was fun about this project was that she and her husband had made space in their brand new home for large study-cum-library complete with floor to ceiling shelves and a spiral staircase going to the upper level. As an ardent reader this new library space meant that all of her books could be shelved together in a more logical manner. This would make books easier to find, but also allow them to be displayed.

Here is the approach that I followed with my client and which can be applied to any home book organising project:

1. Sort: Go through all of your books and group them first into fiction and non-fiction. Then sort all of the non-fiction into subject themes. Decide on themes that are meaningful to you and relevant for the genres of books you have. Use a big table or other flat surface to do the sorting, to save your back from bending. Dust and wipe your books as you go.

Sorting books into themes

2. Alphabetise: If you have a considerable amount of fiction and want to be able to find books quickly, sorting alphabetically is the way to go (being aware that it will take some time for this task). Be warned – if you buy a lot of books, adding them to your library will mean re-sorting your shelves from time to time to fit them. You will also need to make enough space available for the growth of your collection. Or you will need to get rid of books as you add new ones.

Personally, I go for a simpler system. I group similar types of fiction together and don’t go as far as alphabetising. In this recent project, my client requested alphabetical order for non-fiction. However, this meant that I had to remove some novels for donation when three additional boxes of books appeared late in the project to fit into the available space.

Sorting fiction in alphabetical order

3. Measure: Before you shelve your books, plan how you are going to arrange them. Firstly measure the linear length of your shelves to see how much shelf space you have available. Then measure the length of your books when stacked together. In the case of my client, there were 18 metres of non-fiction, which then determined which shelving I used to accommodate the collection together. If at this stage you have more books than shelving space, some letting go will be necessary.

4. Shelve: The final step is to shelve your books. There are various ways that you can shelve your books so that they look aesthetically attractive as well as being organised. I will cover some of these aesthetic options in a future post. In my client’s case, I kept similar categories near each other (such as gardening, plants and African wildlife). I shelved the books both vertically and horizontally depending on their size and weight. In this part of the process you can put your creativity to work, including leaving space for ornaments and photographs for a more personal touch.

Fiction shelved

Non-fiction shelved

5. Admire: After all your hard work, it is now time to relax with a cup of coffee and admire your beautifully organised personal library!

Spot the difference – lessons from organising a grocery cupboard

I helped a client to organise her grocery cupboard this week.  When I first looked at the picture she sent me before I went to her house, it didn’t look particularly bad. And even if you compare the before and after pictures there does not seem to be much of a difference.

Grocery cupboard before and after

However, pictures can be deceiving.  And the way that the cupboard was organised was obviously bothering my client enough for her to have asked for help.

So when I started to work through the shelves it became apparent that there wasn’t much of an order to how the items had been stored, which made finding things difficult.  Some of the key problems were:

  • A mix of different types of items stored together on all of the shelves e.g. baked beans stored with coffee, tea on another shelf with baking items, baking items on several of the shelves interspersed with tinned goods, spices and sauces for cooking, and oil with cooldrinks.
  • Items used regularly were mixed with items that were less frequently used.
  • Dried goods in Tupperware containers were all stored together even though the type of contents varied.  While this might look good, it did not help to find items.

So how did I go about organising the cupboard with my client?

1. The first step was to remove everything and to group the items into zones/types.  We ended up with the following main groups: cereals, hot beverages (tea, coffee, hot chocolate etc.), biscuits and snacks, spreads, tinned goods, oils and sauces,  herbs and spices, rice and grains, cooldrinks and spare milk, desserts, and baking goods.

2. While we removed the items from the cupboard, we got rid of any expired items or those no longer wanted/used, and wiped down the shelves.

3. We reshelved the items in the cupboard according to zones.  Those items used most frequently were in the middle, easy to access shelves and at the front of the shelves, e.g. tea/coffee, oils and spices, cereals.  Those used less frequently were at the back of shelves or on the higher shelves, e.g. baking goods.  Spare/replacement items were generally placed at the back of the shelves or were placed higher up if too large.

This image shows the main zones that we created in my client’s cupboard.

Grocery cupboard after zones

4. We used small plastic baskets to group together small items, e.g. baking essences and spice bottles.

5. Lastly we labelled some of the Tupperware containers to make it easier to locate their contents quickly.

These same steps and principles can be used for any type of cupboard in your house, especially for cupboards that hold a lot of different types of items.

If you would like help to organise any of your cupboard space in this way, please contact me at vicky@sim-plicity.co.za to arrange an appointment.  I would love to help!

* Note: These images have been shared on my blog with the client’s permission.

Hope for hoarding husbands (and their long-suffering wives) – Part 2

CAR magazinesA year ago, I wrote a blog post on how my husband Tony had made great strides in reducing his hoard of stuff in the garage. Alas, life happens and not much further was done in the garage in the intervening year.  Then a friend asked if we could store some boxes for him and being the kind person that he is, Tony agreed.  Once again the garage was at bursting point and something had to be done, not only to accommodate our stuff but the friend’s boxes as well.

So, instead of celebrating our heritage with a braai, Tony and I spent Heritage Day sorting out the garage!  To be honest, I was not too optimistic that we could make it work, knowing how hard it is for Tony to let things go. The first couple of hours were very slow and I admit that I was a little frustrated.  Tony needed to look at each item carefully before making a decision.  But once I decided not to fight him but join him, the whole process went a lot more smoothly.  I took out two deck chairs, made some coffee and we sat while he went through each book that he had been storing in a cupboard for the past 12 years of our married lives (and never looked at once!).  Nonetheless, he kept about one third of them (which have gone back into the house for a second look) but at least he made a fair bit of storage space available.

We also rediscovered ‘the beer mugs’.  The beer mugs have been one of those emblems of our early marriage which Tony brings up from time to time when talking about how I organised his (now our) house when I moved in.  A collection of about 10 beer mugs, acquired all over the world, decorated a high ledge in the lounge when I first met Tony.  To my mind they were not particularly attractive and  were collectors of dust and cobwebs. So when we got married, I insisted that I was not having beer mugs in my lounge and they got relegated to the garage in a box.  Anyway, I guess over a decade of (good) marriage has softened me. On Heritage Day the beer mugs found their way back into the house – not back in the lounge but at least stored where they can be appreciated.  And in the process, I let go of some things in the sideboard, so that there was space for them.

The upside of coming alongside Tony in this garage clear-out was that he was then able to get rid of some other things that he had been holding onto, such as some wooden drawers that his dad has made but which he had never used.  Ultimately we were able to take a full trailer load to the dump.  In the meantime, I remembered that we had some empty space in the kitchen cupboards in the granny flat. So we were able to store the friend’s boxes comfortably between the garage and the granny flat, while also being able to access all of our stuff more easily.  Ultimately it was a productive and satisfying day!

This personal experience reinforced for me as an organiser the importance of working with my clients from the place where they are, that is, to work alongside them and to take my cues from them.  They are more likely to make positive progress when they feel that you are supporting them and not pushing too hard.   It also shows how within a marriage situation, give and take can be a powerful tool to encourage the person more inclined towards hoarding to let things go.  It can also diffuse resentment within the hoarder and make them feel valued i.e. that what matters to them is recognised and supported.

The positive experience with the garage has motivated Tony to work on his study this coming weekend.  He has boxes of sailing memorabilia and piles of sailing magazines which he needs to go through.  Meanwhile, his 20+ year CAR magazine collection, which he decided to let go of during our last clean-out, is still languishing in the spare room cupboards. Several attempts to sell the collection on OLX and Gumtree (for a nominal amount) have not been successful.   Any takers will be thankfully accepted!

My top five ways to organise your home

neat bedroom2Today, 14 January, is Organise Your Home Day. So here are my top five tips to getting your home organised, and keeping it that way:

1. Start with a declutter – less is more

Go through your most used cupboards and space – especially the kitchen/dining area, bedroom and study – and keep only what you really need, use and love.  The less you have, the easier it is to keep organised.  Be ruthless and honest with yourself about why you are keeping things.

2. Have a home for everything

All your belongings need a home. If they don’t they tend to be dumped on whatever surface is available – the dining room table, the kitchen counter, even the floor. Inform others in the household on what belongs where, or else you will find the space being ‘hijacked’.

3. Use your best storage space for what you use all the time

Your most accessible storage space is like prime real estate, i.e. those storage spaces that are easy to access without stretching high or bending down, at the front of shelves and in drawers.  Use these spaces for items that you use regularly, rather than for storing items that are seldom used. This will make finding things and putting them away easier.

4. Get into the habit of putting things away

Have a quick tidy up at the end of each day – you will be amazed at the difference this makes. By putting things away, you home will look and feel more organised.

5. Use cleaning day as a trigger to keep things tidy

It is very difficult to clean a cluttered house, and the clutter usually means that a lot of the house doesn’t get cleaned properly.  I have a domestic worker once a week and I use her cleaning day as a trigger to put my shoes back in the cupboard and to tidy up spaces that have got cluttered during the week. This makes her job easier and the house will be cleaned properly.

I challenge you to put some of these tips into practice and enjoy the difference!