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Decluttering Tips

June 27, 2016

Things I have learned from the Great Declutter (and beyond):

  1.  Have receptacles handy – by which I mean binliners, boxes, carrier bags, whatever.  You need to put the stuff you are getting rid of in something, not just pile it up somewhere, creating more clutter.
  2. Take it away as soon as possible, the next day at the latest. It isn’t just so you won’t change your mind, it is about creating space.  You can’t create space if the stuff you are getting rid of is still around.  So it has to leave the house, pronto.
  3. Avoid the temptation to give things away to friends.  That sounds callous and there are of course exceptions (I’ve given my unwanted perfume and make up to a very appreciative 16 year old for example) but generally, don’t be trapped into making piles for so and so who loves shoes, or such and such who would really appreciate the frames on those pictures you’re throwing out. No!  Get rid ASAP or, once again, you are creating more clutter.
  4. Don’t involve the kids. It feels like the right thing to do but honestly, they want to keep the cheap tat that you hate, the broken toys and the ginormous game that is so big and complicated no one ever plays it.  They will put the lovingly collected cars in the bin and demand more Lego sets. Kids are terrible at decluttering so save them the bother.  Trust me on this. Also points 1 and 2 are important here, because if your four year old is anything like mine, they will be unpacking boxes and destroying piles (of anything folded, preferably) before you can say “Now, where did I put that….”.

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    My decluttering pride and joy.  KALLAX unit and boxes from IKEA.

  5. Be ruthless.  Yes the dress was wonderful and you looked a million dollars in it and you had that amazing night when you got chatted up by like a gazillion people and felt like Gisele but really, you haven’t worn it in 5 years and it has had it’s time. I repeat, the dress and you had your moment and now it’s time to let go. And think of it like this, you are setting it free to be loved and enjoyed by someone just as appreciative as you.
  6. Declutter the real you, not your ideal you. Let me explain.  Before my sister arrived, I had a LOT of pencil skirts.  Now I love a pencil skirt and I aspire to be the woman who spends her days in a beautifully crafted pencil skirt and heels, looking all sexy, elegant and efficient.  Am I that person?  Not for a minute!  Heck, I used to be the Imelda Marcos of Yorkshire, now I rarely even wear heels.  Pencil skirts?  You must be joking.  And yet.  Recently I bought a navy leather pencil skirt and love to see it hanging in my wardrobe. Is it comfortable?  Does it go with anything?  Do I even have shoes to wear with it?  Ummm… that would be a No. Sigh. Similarly, I seem to have an inner longing to be a B&B landlady, hence the mountain of bedding I have acquired.  It’s true, in my fantasy world hordes of friends and relatives descend on our massive house and stay a while on my totally bargainous 100% cotton IKEA sheets. In reality?  We’re in a 3-bed semi and at least one flight away from most people. So that would be a No. It does however tie in with the ruinous amount of entertainment I will be doing in my ideal life, according to the vast amounts of wine glasses, decorative bowls and er, picnic/partyware I have accumulated for just such occasions. Right.
  7. Coasters. Just, why?
  8. Sentimental items.  Well, we all have our own take on nostalgia but it’s bloody heavy and generally takes up a lot of space. I have a dedicated ‘Nostalgia Box’ containing things I simply can’t bear to sort out – yet.  Then there is the genuine nostalgia, like Grandad’s ration book and letters from the war, Nannie’s quilting and Mormor’s crocheted masterpieces.  But it’s taken the Big Declutter to make me realise I am still lugging my Dad’s art portfolio around and he’s been dead ten years.  He was a prolific pet portraitist and I’m happy to report that most of them have gone to a local animal charity, to be loved and appreciated by new people. Some sentimental items however, have no place in our new space, and these are often gifts given generously by people we like but which, perhaps, are not the most practical;  the funky wine rack stays, the designer beer glasses go.  Then there’s tourism nostalgia; the rattan treasures acquired in Asia stay, the leather goods from Africa go. Our new place will still look like a junk yard of global souvenirs – because that’s how cosmopolitan we are, people – but at least it’s down to manageable proportions. No-one needs more than one Ethiopian coffee pot anyway.
  9. Enlist help. You may think your partner is objective, but s/he’s not. Neither are you.  So get a good friend or relative to ask those pertinent questions, like “When do you ever wear pencil skirts?” and suddenly it seems so simple.  Add a glass of wine and it can be fun too!
  10. If in doubt, get rid.  The doubt is there to tell you that no, you don’t need to keep that.  Like Marie Kondo says, sort of, you already know if this will be something you have to have in your life (sparking joy, as she puts it) but chances are, you will have forgotten about it the moment it’s left at the charity shop.  This is something that gets easier with practice, so get practising!  And yes, there will be items you regret giving away because we are humans and life is a long time. But really? It’s only stuff.
  11. Leave Ron and Justin out of it.  Holding on to stuff for Later Ron and Justin Case is a mug’s game, so don’t do it.  See 3 and 10 above.
  12. Take action.  Stop reading about decluttering and how to do it and – do it.

Good luck!

declutter

 

 

 

 

Decluttering the Soul

June 18, 2016

Huge thanks must go to my sister who came over last week and kickstarted the decluttering process for me.  We are moving house in 10 days time and thank goodness I started when I did.  For the first time in our eight year relationship, Pete and I will have all our possessions all together in one place and, put it this way, there ain’t a lot of room.

It was also my sister who put me on to Marie Kondo‘s The Magic of the Art of Tidying, a couple of Christmases ago. I’m assuming you’ve read it? I mean who hasn’t?  It’s the kind of book I love, read immediately and stop about 3/4 of the way through. Why?  I’m not sure, but perhaps it has to do with the fact that once one finishes, one presumably has to take action of some sort.  In any case I have since finished it and still love it and subscribe to Marie’s philosophy on tidying and only keeping the things that bring you joy.  By which I mean it’s aspirational, not necessarily applicable to my life. Hmm.

Which brings me back to last week and the start of the major declutter (I’m currently on my eighth car load destined for the charity shop, not counting the eBay and Gumtree items).  Pete had left 4 days prior and I had been hit by a debilitating tiredness. Like a whole wall of tiredness I couldn’t find the reason for. Was it being a single mum again after 2 weeks of splitting the responsibility? I don’t remember it happening before. Was it menopausal symptoms?  Too much wine?  Too much sun?  None seemed likely.  The only time I could remember feeling something similar was when I was grieving for my father, but that didn’t make sense, I mean there’s a little grief when Pete leaves and I like my rented house and that, but actual grieving?  Unlikely.

The spare room had become a nightmare of such proportions I couldn’t face it and simply closed the door.  Undeterred my brave sister marched in, wine in hand and made me go through my wardrobe.  Having an objective eye was invaluable, as she politely (or should that be pointedly) asked questions like; when was the last time you wore that?  does that still fit you?  would you ever wear that again? as item after item was held up for scrutiny.  She didn’t stop there, demanding ever more items to sort, boxes of random materials and tablecloths appeared, the mountain of bedding mostly disappeared, even the kids

poncho

Yeah, but mine had tassels and glitter

wardrobes got the treatment.  Bags, shoes, scarves, the ‘holiday’ clothes, the ‘souvenir’ t-shirts and, er, tasselled poncho from Mexico (yes really, and the cowboy boots went too).  “It’s not the easiest colour” she remarked of the lime green African shirt, at which point we collapsed in a heap of giggles and from then on that was the verdict on anything we consigned to the charity bag.  It was midnight when we retired, three car loads ready for donation the next day.

And lo and behold, the next day I felt AWESOME!  Like a ton weight of bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. Despite the wine and the late night I felt like a different person and I ascribe it all to the decluttering we had started the night before. Of course, I thought, I’ve been overwhelmed by the move and all that needs to be done, shutting the door both literally and metaphorically on the mess Pete and I  had created and the baggage we had dragged around with us from house to house, country to country.

Herald-CartoonNow I can’t stop. I’ve been decluttering for over a week and it feels fantastic.  I have unpacked boxes we brought from Myanmar and hadn’t opened in two years, I’ve sent 4 bin liners of the kids books, toys and games to the charity shop and I’m only half way through,  and I have become ruthless in my sorting.  The thing is, the more I get rid of the better I feel.  Plus, on a purely practical note, there simply isn’t the storage in the new place and I’m the one that will be lugging all the bloody stuff around.  So less is definitely more.  And if I feel a twinge of doubt about something, I simply look at it and think; well, it’s not the easiest colour…  Cheers Sis!

 

Oscar’s Heart Murmur

May 26, 2016

Last June we took Oscar to the docs for yet another infernal infection, poor mite, and during the routine check of ears, throat, lungs etc the doctor found a heart murmur*.

That moment is etched in my heart forever. All the clichés came true in one fell swoop. Time stood still. It felt like an endless hole had opened up beneath me and I was a heartbeat away from tumbling in. I turned to stone. I was unable to speak. My mind fought between hysteria, panic and total, utter calmness. The calmness won, because my Mom brain took over and said very sternly LISTEN TO THE DOCTOR. So I did. Afterwards, in the car, Pete said I shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. But I don’t even know what questions to ask! I wailed, as the floodgates opened and I sobbed all the way home. I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life.

That fear only lasted a few minutes, as both the doctor and then Pete reassured me how common heart murmurs are in small children. How they can be temporary as a result of inflammations due to very ordinary infections (which little children get A LOT), how they can grow out of them and how, nine times out of ten, they are what is termed ‘innocent’.

That’s as maybe, but for those few moments I felt a fraction of what it must be like to be told your child is very sick. I felt a sudden rush of sympathy for parents of seriously ill children, for whom those few seconds and minutes stretch into days and weeks and even years, if not a lifetime. How on earth do they do it? I can’t even begin to imagine what it takes.

Innocent or not, I need a definitive diagnosis. It is in the back of my mind ALWAYS. When he gets tired, or loses his appetite, I can’t help but wonder, is it related? Is this the first step to a more serious diagnosis? Is there something wrong with my child that I can’t fix?

We are in the system. A referral letter is sent. An appointment will be made with a specialist. We will get to the bottom of this. A definitive diagnosis will be made. This is reassuring. What no-one told me however, is how fucking long this will take. That I will likely wait nine months to A YEAR to even hear back about an appointment, never mind actually attending the clinic or getting results. What the actual fuck?

In December I’m a bit frazzled and, as always, worried about Oscar and this infernal diagnosis. At a GP visit for something else I get him to check and the murmur is still there. Pete agrees that we should get a private appointment and he seeks out a Paediatric Cardiologist for met to contact. It is three days before Christmas and half past five in the evening when we rock up to the 352 Clinic. I don’t actually know what happens but after having a hot chocolate from the very exciting vending machine in the waiting room, and waiting over 40 minutes, Oscar goes mental in the doctor’s office. I mean properly mental. He’s screaming and wriggling, running for the door and refusing in every single way to co-operate in any way whatsoever. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never seen him like this. Was it the hot chocolate? The long wait? The proximity to dinnertime/Christmas? Anxiety about the doctor or the equipment? I have no idea but after 10 – 15 minutes of coaxing, cuddling and a bit of leaning on his legs so the doctor can at least listen to his heart, we all give up.

I could cry. For all sorts of reasons. This was supposed to be my diagnosis, the thing I’ve been nursing for months, the thing I’ve been hoping for and dreading and needing for what feels like forever but is in fact only 6 months. I say only, but in fact 6 months in a three year old’s life is a lot, actually.

It is not to be. He can’t make a full diagnosis without the ECG and the other thing, whatever it is; I can’t seem to make my ears work, I’m so disappointed. He does say it is most likely to be innocent and if pushed, that is what he would say. But he can’t confirm it at this point. So. That’s it.

I’d make another appointment but what if it happens again? I paid £150 for pretty much nothing at all. I can’t do that again. So we wait for the NHS appointment to come through. It’s almost June 2016 and we are still waiting.

Read more here about the NHS waiting list in Northern Ireland.

*A heart murmur is where your heartbeat has an extra, or unusual, sound caused by a disturbed blood flow through the heart.

 

 

 

School Nurse and School Dinners

May 24, 2016

The School Nurse rang me recently. Alfie’s height and weight had been flagged up during her first visit, last year during P1. He was then on the 99th centile for both, so she had requested another appointment and was calling me with the results. She was inordinately relieved to hear that we were well aware of the escalating weight and under the care of Andrea, our Paediatric Dietitian. Interestingly she absolutely jumped on the fact that school dinners were a problem. She became very enthusiastic and said yes, I should absolutely talk to the school about their lunches and yes I must investigate how healthy (or not) they are and I should definitely push for a packed lunch instead. I was quite taken aback, have I stumbled on a thing? Does everyone know that school dinners are pretty diabolical and are they quietly hoping for change? Did the Jamie Oliver revolution never happen? Or perhaps it didn’t reach Northern Ireland? I’m intrigued.

'I saw the school nurse put that sign up.'

I’m also grateful to have a mechanism like the School Nurse to pick up on potential problems. However, on reflection, I am not sure it’s enough. She offered another appointment – next year. Alfie was sent home with an information pack; the same one he got last year. It’s all very well telling me that I need to avoid fizzy drinks and encourage less screen time, but… and I’m glad of the illustration of the food pyramid and portion plate. But really, is that it? Because I had all the information and my child still became overweight. I appreciate I’m possibly not the target audience for this particular brochure but surely a few strategies and a bit more support might help? Thanks to Andrea we have instigated a weekly weigh-in, a food diary and, probably most helpful, discussions and awareness of portion control. Plus, of course, she was the one who highlighted the calorie content of those contentious school dinners. Not only that, I email her weekly and this works (possibly more for me than her) because it makes me reflect on our habits and behaviours and see where we might be going wrong, as it were.

The School Nurse, like so many other things, has been outsourced and centralised. I expect she does what she can with what she’s got. At least she doesn’t have to check for nits anymore. Or does she?

keep_calm_and_listen_to_the_school_nurse_ceramic_ornament-r467c0820cde44fe1956acc93fa4abc61_x7s2y_8byvr_324

Oscar’s Heart Murmur

May 20, 2016

Last June we took Oscar to the docs for yet another infernal infection, poor mite, and during the routine check of ears, throat, lungs etc the doctor found a heart murmur.

That moment is etched in my heart forever. All the clichés came true in one fell swoop. Time stood still. It felt like an endless hole had opened up beneath me and I was a heartbeat away from tumbling in. I turned to stone. I was unable to speak. My mind fought between hysteria, panic and total, utter calmness. The calmness won, because my Mom brain took over and said very sternly LISTEN TO THE DOCTOR. So I did. Afterwards, in the car, Pete said I shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. But I don’t even know what questions to ask! I wailed, as the floodgates opened and I sobbed all the way home. I don’t think I have ever been so scared in my life.

That fear only lasted a few minutes, as both the doctor and then Pete reassured me how common heart murmurs are in small children. How they can be temporary as a result of inflammations due to very ordinary infections (which little children get A LOT), how they can grow out of them and how, nine times out of ten, they are what is termed ‘innocent’.

That’s as maybe, but for those few moments I felt a fraction of what it must be like to be told your child is very sick. I felt a sudden rush of sympathy for parents of seriously ill children, for whom those few seconds and minutes stretch into days and weeks and even years, if not a lifetime. How on earth do they do it? I can’t even begin to imagine what it takes.

Innocent or not, I need a definitive diagnosis. It is in the back of my mind ALWAYS. When he gets tired, or loses his appetite, I can’t help but wonder, is it related? Is this the first step to a more serious diagnosis? Is there something wrong with my child that I can’t fix?

We are in the system. A referral letter is sent. An appointment will be made with a specialist. We will get to the bottom of this. A definitive diagnosis will be made. This is reassuring. What no-one told me however, is how fucking long this will take. That I will likely wait nine months to A YEAR to even hear back about an appointment, never mind actually attending the clinic or getting results. What the actual fuck?

In December I’m a bit frazzled and, as always, worried about Oscar and this infernal diagnosis. At a GP visit for something else I get him to check and the murmur is still there. Pete agrees that we should get a private appointment and he seeks out a Paediatric Cardiologist for met to contact. It is three days before Christmas and half past five in the evening when we rock up to the 324 Clinic. I don’t actually know what happens but after having a hot chocolate from the very exciting vending machine in the waiting room, and waiting over 40 minutes, Oscar goes mental in the doctor’s office. I mean properly mental. He’s screaming and wriggling, running for the door and refusing in every single way to co-operate in any way whatsoever. I don’t know what to do. I’ve never seen him like this. Was it the hot chocolate? The long wait? The proximity to dinnertime/Christmas? Anxiety about the doctor or the equipment? I have no idea but after 10 – 15 minutes of coaxing, cuddling and a bit of leaning on his legs so the doctor can at least listen to his heart, we all give up.

I could cry. For all sorts of reasons. This was supposed to be my diagnosis, the thing I’ve been nursing for months, the thing I’ve been hoping for and dreading and needing for what feels like forever but is in fact only 6 months. I say only, but in fact 6 months in a three year old’s life is a lot, actually.

It is not to be. He can’t make a full diagnosis without the ECG and the other thing, whatever it is; I can’t seem to make my ears work, I’m so disappointed. He does say it is most likely to be innocent and if pushed, that is what he would say. But he can’t confirm it at this point. So. That’s it.

I’d make another appointment but what if it happens again? I paid £150 for pretty much nothing at all. I can’t do that again. So we wait for the NHS appointment to come through. It’s May 2016 and we are still waiting.

 

The Nit Kit

May 18, 2016

Well it finally happened – we got the nits innit? I’m surprised it’s taken so long but perhaps sending the boys to a prep school has its advantages after all?

Of course being naïve about nits poor old Oscar had an itchy head for weeks*. My first thought was head lice but every time I checked I couldn’t find anything. A sensible person would at this point have resorted to Google and found out that head lice are notoriously difficult to detect, until the later stages when they are a massive 2mm long and crawling all over your collar. I didn’t even think of going to a pharmacist to ask for help. In the end Pete suggested medicated shampoo – I have a vague recollection of Vosene from my

2016-05-17-12.20.30.jpg.jpg

The Old Nit Kit

younger days but my dear Pa would wash my hair in Fairy liquid so I wasn’t really up on hair stuff. Timotei and Pantene were all that featured in my life for a very long time. In any case a lovely Pharmacist proffered T-Gel (by Neutrogena) and suggested we use it only once a week for 5 weeks and a very mild shampoo at other times. Amazingly this really did seem to work! For a week. Now I am wondering why she didn’t suggest head lice to me, although on second thoughts I was very insistent he didn’t have them. Oh innocent, naïve, stupid hopeful mother!

It was Alfie what dunnit. His were easy to see, though in fairness I only ever found 3 grown up lice on him. But the eggs! Man they are like limpets. Now Alfie has the most glorious hair. Thick, shiny and golden, it is like a halo of hair envy and he likes to wear it long. This is not good when you have to get a nit comb through it. This is not good when you have to get a nit comb through it SEVERAL TIMES.

So I cut his hair off. With his consent. It’s the first time I’ve ever cut anyone’s hair (kids are good like that) and it wasn’t awful. Thing is, I thought I’d got rid of the blighters but to my horror the hairdresser found more. Cue embarrassed mother shuffling out of the salon in shame. I daren’t go back in case there are still signs, hence the home-made haircut. I just couldn’t face another lifetime combing the bloody nits out.

Then I discovered the Gold Standard of headline eradication (Hedrin). Sure it’s expensive, but bloody hell, who has time to do that awful stuff the doctor gives you? Not me. You can have one of my kidneys if you promise we won’t ever get headlice again. All that bloody washing for a start! Opinion varies on

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The Gold Standard Nit Kit

whether you have to boilwash ALL the bedding in the house but I wasn’t taking any chances. So that got done every time we did a treatment. Because you have to do a follow up treatment a week later too. So first treatment, second treatment, another treatment, the follow up treatment and oh FFS.

 

And have you ever tried nitcombing yourself? Now that my hair is bleached it’s akin to carding wool. I’m not wasting another iota of my life doing that again.

Just to be clear, we are all clear. We couldn’t be more clearer. We DO NOT have the nits no more. So if mine come home with nits again, I’m blaming your kids, OK?

Click here to find out how about Detection Combing

*Itching

Head lice often cause a person’s scalp to itch. Itching isn’t caused by lice biting the scalp, but by an allergy to the lice.

However, not everyone is allergic to head lice, so you or your child may not notice a head lice infestation.

Even if someone with head lice is allergic to them, itching can take up to three months to develop.

In some cases, a rash may appear on the back of the neck. This is caused by a reaction to lice droppings.

Mental Health Awareness

May 13, 2016

Did you realise this week is Mental Health Awareness Week?

mental health ribbon

This is the American version – they get a whole month!

Well for starters go and check out the very excellent Jeremy Vine programme on BBC Radio 2. Each day Jeremy is talking about a different topic, such as self harm, anorexia and bipolar disorder. This particular clip is about depression.

Now I am totally biased because I love BBC Radio 2 and I love Jeremy Vine. I also love a good discussion on Mental Health because it continues to surprise me how little we do, talk or provide for mental health in our society. I mean we ALL have mental health of one kind or another, it’s there whether you like it or not, like your physical health. I get that there’s stigma and shame but for goodness sakes, we know that is only because of a lack of knowledge and an ignorance that stems from not talking about it! We are grown ups in the 21st Century, do hurry up and get with the programme. help me im fine

(Isn’t it interesting that the Americans are at the forefront of all things psychological? If there is a new way of thinking, new movements in psychotherapy or definitions of behaviours and methods of therapy, you can be sure it probably came from the States. How is it that a nation so routinely derided for being naïve and um, a bit, well child-like,  should be pioneers of the human mind? In the word of one famous American*; “Fascinating”.)

Recently it was Depression Awareness Week (I’m sure they were aware of the Mental Health Awareness Week coming up.  But are other Awareness Weeks aware of each other at all? Beware Awareness Weeks, before we all start suffering Awareness Fatigue. Oooh, there’s another condition, tick!).

I mention it because of this rather fantastic article which describes depression very well.  I’m shocked by the statistic that 97.5% of the population don’t suffer from depression. What? What are they doing? Did they forget to live life? I have always suspected everyone suffers from depression in varying forms and it’s just the more enlightened of us who admit to it. But perhaps it’s true, there are people out there who don’t get depressed. How odd, I think? What could that possibly feel like? Practically everyone I know has had it, or at least a brush with it, in one form or another. Is it because I hang out with creative folk?** Or is it because I subconsciously seek out fellow ‘sufferers’? Perhaps we have some kind of radar that allows us to gather and connect. Not whilst we’re depressed obviously, because that kind of thing becomes impossible (if not downright distressing).

I have issues with the term ‘suffering from’ too, because although there is certainly a degree of suffering involved in feeling depressed, I don’t spend my life ‘suffering.’ I do have depression; like the herpes virus (condition) it’s in my body forever and like a coldsore (symptom) it is apt to pop up when I least expect it, but when I’ve most likely been neglecting my mental/physical health in some way. Unfortunately the only other word I can think of today is ‘afflicted’ and that really won’t do, because it makes me giggle. “I am afflicted by depression.” Hilarious! Although I might join a group calling themselves The Afflicted. Now that does sound romantic.

In any case, sufferer or not, the writer is right that it is a very unattractive condition. Having been both afflicted and in a relationship with someone who became afflicted, I can attest to that. (I hasten to add that we weren’t both afflicted at the same time, that would be weird).

So, mental health. It’s important. Talk about it, find out about it and do yourself a favour – give yourself a little check up. And listen to Jeremy Vine!

*Sorry, not an American, a Vulcan. Spockha

**This is of course utter bollocks because anyone can suffer from depression but it’s a rather romantic myth that artistic, creative and funny people suffer more than most, like you have to be mad to be a genius and all that guff.

 

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