What’s the one thing most of us buy too much of at Christmas? (2 minute read)

Glittery, matt or gloss. Colourful or muted.  It’s all so tempting. Whatever sh*t is underneath it offers the hope of something sparkling and new which will change your life. And who doesn’t like looking at their own pile of satisfyingly wrapped present when the task is finally complete?

Well, let me remind you – something that appears so helpful will frankly be a pain for the rest of the year. It’s awkward shape means it’s often a nuisance to store and it sits around being useless for the next eleven and and a half months.

Most of my decluttering clients have a glut of wrapping paper which lives at the bottom of wardrobes or is dumped in lofts, garages and spare rooms.


Actually, I’m just as guilty so this year I decided to take stock. There was a lot. I mean a lot.


So I vowed not to buy any more until I’ve used up what I’ve got.

Christmas wrap is one of those panic purchase items – you buy some gifts then worry about what you’re going to wrap them in as you stand in line to pay – never confident in the amount you think you have and then those pesky shop keepers stick loads of it by the tills. Supermarkets offer the most temptation as you’re already pushing a trolley so it doesn’t seem as much of an effort to carry huge rolls if you can wheel them around.

So try not to buy before you’ve taken stock. Since going through my stash I’ve found a family of jiffy bags have been mating in the drawer. I’ve trawled the internet for ideas to sex them up for Christmas but to no avail. Any ideas welcome…


Whatever your thoughts on Amazon they can send stuff out in reusable cloth gift bags which have been useful.

Or buy similar from Etsy.

I’m getting a sad amount of pleasure re-using gift bags and paper which I managed to salvage last Christmas.

I intend to do the same this year but need to work on leaving a more acceptable amount of time between the present being removed from the bag and me grabbing it. I plan to keep my eye on where it gets put to reclaim later. Or I’ll volunteer to ‘tidy up’ the post-present debris so I can rescue any reusable pieces of wrapping paper too.

Here’s some I rescued last year which helpful as it already had the relevant details for this year written on it – win, win..


In an ideal world I’ll also collect random bits of tissue paper, ribbon and string to pimp up said reused bags and paper.

And when you’ve smuggly used up all your stash you can get really resourceful. Firstly, never underestimate the power of brown paper. Think Julie Andrews and her favourite things. These days you can get lovely silver and gold or striped string etc. And string is cheaper than ribbon.

paperandcardBrown paper can easily be brought up a notch with a few flourishes such as some stamps or hand-drawn stars. Some clever people on Pinterest dress their’s with buttons or sprigs of something from outside attached with said string. I’ve seen someone else tuck in some handmade paper snowflakes – the ones we all learnt to make at primary school. I tried an old cut up Christmas card and was quite pleased with the result.




Last year my odd (but clean) fluffy socks, again tied with a bit of ribbon, went down well. They’re coming out again.




Children’s pictures also make great gift wrap.

When I was feeling a little smug at using up my wrapping backlog it was then, of course,  that I found a whole load more  …. hidden in a ‘the special place’ which I forgot existed.


Luckily I remembered it before Christmas… but I might need to buy some more presents just to use the damn stuff up.


Decluttering Christmas Tree Decorations (2 minute read)

About the only job my children are keen to help with each Christmas is dressing the tree. They love the way it signifies the start of the festive season but also take great delight in sorting through the decorations.


Each year we unearth the decorations  xxxxx which are stored and wrapped in increasingly scruffy white tissue paper. It’s like opening a seasonal memory box – they’ll remember the ones their Nanna gave them or those they made at nursery. Old favourites get put on the tree first – usually in a big clump near the middle. The ones which get left on the dining room table, as their interest wanes, are the decorations I think about chucking.

When it comes to a sentimental decoration ask yourself if you actually like it? Are you keeping it because you think you should or because you really want to? Well, tell should to shove off and put the decoration in a bag destined for the charity shop. Over the years I’ve found the meaning of some decorations fades so I can let them go. And don’t keep anything which reminds you of unhappy times.

puddingandangelWhen it comes to handmade kiddie decorations ask yourself if they are past their best? Has the glue turned yellow? Has most of the glitter fallen off? Have the children made better, more pleasing models since? Well, if the answer is yes you’re allowed to say that these decorations have served their purpose over the years and now it is time for the new creations to replace them. By now your children will have already experienced the pleasure of making them and seeing them on tree in previous years.



RNLIIf you do feel the need to get more decorations try to stick with a theme to limit the overwhelming choice. My criteria is hand knitted charity ones – ideally made by old ladies for a good cause. The only decoration I’ve bought this year is a cute knitted navy jumper with brown elbow patches and a white RNLI logo, with all the proceeds going to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. It feels better to buy something with a story behind it rather something mass produced and sold by a high-street chain. It is also  another way to make a festive charitable donation now I’ve stopped buying any Christmas cards.

If you feel you still have too many decorations try to order them in preference – so your Top 30 or ask yourself which ones you’d like your children to hang from their own trees one day  – so which ones will become family heirlooms?


Last year was the first time I managed to let go off my control and let my children decorate the tree. I didn’t move one thing. It was hard but I tried to remember that there will be plenty of years in the future when the kids won’t be at home to help. And frankly if anyone is going to judge me on the spacing and aesthetic balance of my decorations they shouldn’t be visiting in the first place.

Me in action working on a wardrobe… (not much reading, lots of pictures)

Today I had the pleasure of working with the photographer Matt Radcliffe, and his lovely wife Janine, to declutter and sort their wardrobes.


Whilst I was there Matt took these great shots of me in action which show some of the process. (As it’s my blog I’ve edited out all the shots where I look like my mum and my hands are super wrinkled…)

So first we got all the clothes out.


Then we discussed what to keep and what to donate to charity


Then we grouped all the clothes in like piles – so t-shirts, jumpers, trousers (or pants as they’re called up here)…

Then we did a second edit. Most people get tired at this point and want to give up!


We then put back the clothes in a logical order which meant hanging skirts, dresses, shirts and blouses (together in sections) in the wardrobe and then folding t-shirts, jumpers, sportswear and jeans and putting them in the drawers.

I taught them the Marie Kondo folding method…


Which meant Matt and Janine could easily see what clothes they had and fit more into the drawers – which didn’t matter too much as they actually had far less to fit back into them.

We bagged up all the clothes and all the excess coat hangers which were no longer needed.



Then we loaded all the bags into the back of my car to deliver to a local Oxfam Shop. Janine said this was the best bit.

When we arrived and opened the car boot for the big reveal the man working there said we’d made his day ….


Matt was so relaxed and chatty throughout the whole process I forgot he was taking pictures – which is what you want if you hate having your photo taken like me.

Check out Matt’s great work at: mattradcliffephoto.co.uk




So Many Slides? (2 minute read)

lots of slides

A couple of years ago I had the sad task of emptying and selling my elderly dad’s four-bedroom house as following a fall he’d had to move into a care home. As well as having to sort his own possessions there was the task of processing the things which he’d inherited from his parents (my grandparents) which were still stacked up in boxes in his home office although they’d died years ago.

As well as the dozens of packets of photos there were hundreds of individual slides. They reminded me of tedious evenings as a child when we’d be ushered into a darkened room and be expected to be enthralled by the images of someone’s first foreign holiday projected onto the wall, so I wasn’t in any rush to retrieve them from the storage unit where they’ve been living since I’d cleared the house.

But we are working to gradually clear the storage unit after a visit this autumn I bought a box of slides home to work out what to do with. Without even having anything to view them on I set aside five minutes to give the slides a cursory glance but half an hour later sensed I’d uncovered some forgotten gems.

So, just by holding them up to the light, I whittled 800 slides down to 200. I then sent them to photosos.co.uk who converted the slides into digital images which they returned to me on a memory stick.

slides boxes

It was wonderful to view the images full screen on my computer. Some of them hadn’t been seen for at least 60 years. I’d been shown lots of cute baby photos of my dad but here were wonderful images of his teenage life and young adulthood, then his time as a young dad.

I could relate to the shots as in some he would have been the same age as my daughter is now, then I saw him flourish into a rather handsome man and I could see him experiencing the joy of fatherhood.

One image of my teenage dad laughing on the beach in his swimming trunks, looking so fit and full of life in the fresh air, made me cry as I thought of my dad now hobbling around with a walking frame and spending most of his time in his bedroom.

I used blurb.co.uk, which is very user friendly, to transform the digital images into a beautiful hardback book which I intend to give my dad for Christmas.




Lost slides daddy

Just by taking time out and making a little bit of effort I’ve rescued these wonderful memories and hopefully created a Christmas present for my dad which will mean so much more to him than socks or hankies.

The shots are all the more poignant as now he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s he’s in the final chapter of his life. I’m looking forward to hearing him sharing his stories  which lay within the pages of The Lost Slides.


How to have a less materialistic Christmas with kids (3 minute read)

Christmas can be a stressful time and being surrounded by piles of new stuff adds to the mayhem. Research by anthropologists reveals clutter makes people feel anxious, helpless and overwhelmed so it’s a good idea to anticipate and avoid gift saturation point.

In our house children are banned from mentioning Christmas until after Bonfire night so when they were little on 6th November when they brought up the C word, I’d remind them of The Santa Bag. He brings it a week before Christmas to fill up with toys to deliver to children all round the world. Now the kids are older we ask them to fill a bag for the charity shop before they can expect to get anything new.

In previous years I’ve made the mistake of quantity over quality feeling the pressure to supply a big pile of gifts, a large component of which were panic waste of money nonsense. Then I’d witness present fatigue as the kids stormed through the pile of wrapped presents flinging each to one side to reach for the next. It was clear there was too much.

I’ve now learnt to manage my kid’s expectations in terms of the actual gifts they are going receive. We tell them they can have something to read, something they need, something to wear, something they want and something to share.

Something they need could be a new duvet cover or an alarm clock, so they don’t need to have their mobile phones in their bedrooms to wake them up. The wear part can be a pair of trainers they’ve been coveting or an impractical party dress. Sharing presents are family games or activities which bring us all together rather than isolating the children in their bedrooms. If the something they want is just too expensive don’t be afraid to tell them so. They’re children – they’ll get over it.

As it’s often the anticipation that’s more exciting that the actual gift, instead of the children just coming down to a pile of presents we try to prolong the whole rigmarole by hiding gifts around the house. To get extra excitement to young ones call this a Treasure Hunt.

We also hide Christmas Promises. These hand-written age-appropriate ‘coupons’ are placed in little envelopes (think the sort florists use) and are to be redeemed when the children want. These are all about spending time rather than money on them so maybe a movie night at home (they get to choose the film and snack), after school deluxe hot chocolate, stay up an hour later than usual, a pamper night, a friend for a sleepover, ice-cream for breakfast or an after dark supermarket trip in their pyjamas. Top hits have included a bag full of two pence coins to spend at an arcade and a recipe with money attached so they shopped and paid for the ingredients themselves.

Invest money in memories not stuff. These experiences can be anything from tickets to shows or events, trips to a splash park, going bowling or iceskating to rock climbing or go-carting. You can even work sheep with a Border Collie.

Give your kids a journal to record it all in. Or next Christmas you could compile a photo book, easily made online using the memories captured on your phone.

Gifts that keep on giving are also rewarding so think magazine or comic subscription; a cinema pass; or sport or art classes. Monthly subscription boxes themed round science, art or baking are another way to spread the love. If you adopt or sponsor an animal such as a guide dog you’ll receive regular updates in the post.

Consumable gifts like chocolate or a personalised can of squirty cream are good because they get used up.  We’re a big fan of mug cake mixes as it least they require some effort to make rather than just being available to stuff into eager mouths.

Children love the traditions of Christmas so introduce some family ones. Our children always get a new pair of PJs or onesie on Christmas Eve. I’d have to buy them new ones anyway so I may as well make it special. We’ve also introduced a shopping trip to buy for gifts for those less privileged processed through schemes run by charities such as The Salvation Army and Family Action.

Children can then feel the pleasure of giving but also appreciate how lucky they actually are.

What do to with new product boxes? (2 minute read)

$_86Common space suckers I meet when working with clients are empty product and appliance boxes.

Some I’ve come across, in spare rooms, garages and lofts, have outlived the very thing they once held.

And these boxes often take up far more space that the actual device they once carried.

They’re a classic ‘just in case’ form of clutter. The mischievous clutter clown in people’s head asks ‘but what if you want to resell it?’ or ‘what if it breaks so you need to send it back?’ or ‘what if you move house?’

If you regularly upgrade your electronics, such as your smartphone or laptop, and sell the previous model to fund this DO keep the box but you can make use of it in the meantime. I-phone boxes are things of beauty so you may as well fill them with paperclips or spare change.

All other boxes, once you’ve kept them for a few weeks to check the item isn’t faulty, can be sent to recycling.  If you can store them flat in the meantime please do.

And what about all the bumph that comes with it? Take a digital photo or scan the warranty. Once you’ve set up your new product ditch the manuals as you can find the information they hold online. And often your relevant bit is less than a 20th of the actual book and the rest is a duplication of the same information but in different languages.

Try to engage an element of trust. So trust that the device won’t break so you won’t need to send it back.

If you do desperately need to send something back you will find a way – probably using some of those Jiffy bags that have been breeding in another space.

Unless you are planning on moving in the next three months ditch the boxes. If circumstances change it’s pretty easy to find more packaging at your local supermarket or friendly local shops who should be happy for you to remove and reuse some of the flattened boxes in their hefty recycling bins.

I recently helped a client move house and we simply wrapped her large flatscreen TV in a duvet and transported it in a car. It hadn’t been necessary to clutter up her attic with a vast LCD TV box for the previous 4 years.

Getting rid of empty boxes is a risk you can afford to take. If you drive a car or simply cross a road this is a daily risk you don’t think twice about. If you’re missing a box it is not going to kill you.