Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Declutter Week Two: All the Bedrooms

Well, it is school holidays here in Tasmania, which makes it a perfect week for the children to declutter their own bedrooms. To add an extra fillip of motivation I have bribed the girls with the promise of an expedition for tea and cakes upon successful completion of this project. As the holidays are two weeks long, I have extended the deadline for them. Fifteen minutes of decluttering and tidying and emptying cupboards per day may do the trick. Well, at least it will improve the situation immensely. Surely?

As for me, I will just spend the one week on my room, because otherwise I will be on this decluttering project until Christmas. I don't know about you, but I tend to use my room as a dumping ground for various unclassifiable piles of things that I need to do something about at some unnamed future date. Currently I have Posy's outgrown school uniforms to give way or sell, a bunch of Posy's dolls that she doesn't want anymore that I can't bring myself to just take to the op shop (Mummy sentimentalism..), a stack of pictures that I haven't hung yet since the renovations happened, a pile of clothes that I can't decide whether I want to keep or not.. you know how it goes. Also, the tops of the cupboards in my dressing room are decorated with tubs of computer accessories, bags of gift wrapping, children's art supplies and other detritus that doesn't belong to me. And really, who knows what is lurking in the depths of the wardrobes?

I have an idea that I would like a space that is an expression of me, rather than a Useful Place to Store Odd Things. It may take a while to find out what it is that I really want in my room, but there is quite a lot that I know I don't want in there. Again, I will be updating during the week. I will start with sorting the piles on the floor, proceed to the Unidentified Objects on top of my wardrobes, and finish with forays into the dark depths of the cupboards. Oh my. Then I will spring clean. Luckily the weather is vile this week, excellent for staying in and sorting out.

Monday: Today I merely clutched at my aching head and repeatedly asked myself why I had said 'yes' to the giant weekend sleepover. Also spent some thankful hours in a quiet theatre watching Rosy's ballet competitions, which was quite tedious, but at least no-one was squealing, crying, or making a mess.

Tuesday: Here is what I am starting with:

Today's washing all over the bed. Somebody should fold that and put it away.
Chair one:

..and Chair Two:

When I inherited these chairs from my Granny I fondly imagined all the hours I would spend sitting and reading in them. Well, I have done that, but generally only after tipping a pile of clothes off them first. I can understand why the Japanese invented rooms where you pack away the bed everyday and decorate merely with a vase of ikebana. It removes the temptation to drape 'stuff' on every horizontal surface. Must. put. clothes. away. Actually, none of these are my daily clothes. I do put them away. They are all piles of clothes I need to mend, give away, children's clothes to take up to the shed for next season, etc etc. At least the cat enjoys sleeping on them.

Update: It took half an hour to tidy and put everything away, including the washing. I haven't actually resolved any of the piles as such. Just moved them. I still have a pile of school uniform, a pile of Posy's outgrown clothes, a pile of dolls, and a pile of books to take to the secondhand bookshop. It is really a pile of errands. I will try to get through it all this week and find deserving homes for everything. Oh, and see that lovely skirt up above? It is a very nice Italian tweed skirt that I bought for $5 from the Red Cross shop two weeks ago. It has been languishing there because I haven't tried it on yet. Because I just hate trying on clothes. So today I finally did, and it fits perfectly. This increases my winter work wardrobe to four outfits, which is nice for everyone who has to see me in the same thing every day:) Yes, I know everyone else in the country has moved on to summer outfits, but this is Tasmania. We get summer between January and March. Sometimes.

Wednesday: Posy's room is a repository for treasure of many different kinds. It has been the children's room since we moved in here fifteen years ago. First it was The Boy and The Girl sharing, then The Girl and Rosy, then all the girls, then Rosy and Posy, now just Posy. Very little has been removed from the room in that time, and going through it is like an archeological dig, slowly peeling back the layers.

Today we set the timer for fifteen minutes and I had to drag Posy in kicking and screaming. But then we couldn't stop, 'Oh wow, here is my yoyo/slinky/down ball/book light. Thanks for making me clean up Mum!' Now there is a sentence I never thought I would hear coming from the lips of any of my children. We filled up the recycling bin with mountains of paper. Glory be, Posy feels that she is finally able to let go of half-coloured ten-year-old colouring books that she inherited from her sisters. We sorted through eighteen years' worth of dolls' clothes. Oh my. It is very hard to get rid of dolls' clothes that your eighteen year old sewed as a six year old, but where do you draw the line with precious memories? I can't keep everything forever. And The Girl will always be the same person who sewed dolls' clothes at six. That part of her is within her forever, and I don't need an artefact to preserve that moment.

I also climbed up to take things off the top of my wardrobe, but it was too hard, so I put them back again. There is always tomorrow.

Thursday: So tomorrow came, and I managed to avoid all forms of decluttering until 7.30pm, when the children were all playing canasta with The Man, who is home for a few days. No, I lie, earlier in the day I pulled a shoebox from the top of the wardrobe which proved to be full of photos, which I spent an hour going through. I got them out again at dinner, and we all walked down memory lane again for a while. Such adorable baby children I had! So easy to get distracted when decluttering!

So here is the mess I had to contend with: Wardrobe One

And Wardrobe Two:

Having slept on the problem of what to do with all the mess on the tops of the wardrobes, I went up to the shed and hauled down an old trunk. I bought it many years ago when The Girl was a baby and we lived in Port Adelaide. I used to potter down the esplanade which was lined with second hand shops, and bring back treasures balanced precariously on the big old English pram, with The Boy trotting alongside and complaining.

Anyway, I have decided to store everything that is archive material (photos, cards made by my children, the box full of paintings and hilarious stories written by my genius children) into the trunks. Done. Also stored a large bag of Christmas themed cards and gift tags in there, along with the Christmas crackers I bought on sale last year.

I threw out most of the old paint, because it was, well, old, and saved some good paint to give to friends with small children. Then I realised that most of the rest of the stuff on top of the wardrobes was stored there while we were renovating and had absolutely no storage space in the rest of the house. Now we do. And yet, out of sheer habit I have been climbing on a wobbly step stool every time anyone wants gift wrapping, or when I need my boots, which I store in their boxes. I have been needlessly risking a broken wrist for over a year now, just because I was used to it!

I found a spot for the boots in the wradrobe. Gift wrapping and the bag full of useful bags were sent downstairs to the study, along with a tub full of possibly useful computer-related accessories. Maybe I will sort them when I get to decluttering the study. Maybe. So, now the wardrobes look like this:

Wardrobe One:

Yes, I know that trunk is painted blue. It was the 90s. Remember how the 90s were all about blue and yellow? And ducks? It takes me a while to catch up with interior decoration trends. One day I will paint it white, or French Grey or something. Or I will just leave it until blue comes back and then I will be totally On Trend once more:)

Wardrobe Two:

Most boring photo ever. Isn't it wonderful? Now that I am not distracted by the annoying clutter, it occurs to me that there are two bare lightbulbs adorning the room. Ah well, decluttering first, decorating later. I am not superwoman.

Friday: Today I opened the wardrobe doors. It was entirely on the cards that I would be writing to you from Narnia this evening, but, silly me, these are Ikea wardrobes, and the most I could hope for was a magical trip to Sweden. That didn't eventuate either, but there was a miracle after all - clean and organised clothes storage.

I must say, that with all the downsides and miseries of separating this year, it makes me feel a little guilty to be quite so gleeful about all the extra storage space I now have. The Man has left a few of his clothes here until he has a permanent other home, and those that didn't fit in the small wardrobe downstairs were all in their original drawers and hanging spaces, until today, when I rationalised them into a very small space indeed, and spread out my clothes luxuriously. I took the opportunity to weed out pieces that I don't absolutely love (quote from Helen Fielding, author of Bridget Jones, 'Only buy clothes that make you do a happy dance,' or in the case of decluttering, only keep clothes that make you want to do a happy dance when you wear them.)

I pulled out a number of strange items that had no business cluttering up my wardrobe - piles of mending, piles of Posy's outgrown clothes to move along, piles of bits and pieces that I clearly intended to send to the op shop but never quite got that far. There are now bags waiting in the back of the car to leave the property, and the clothes in the wardrobe are hanging, rather than being squashed in on top of clutter piles.

I am so happy. I did imagine that these weeks of organising the house were going to be dreadfully tedious and boring, and I am quite sure my life looks extremely boring to the casual observer, or blog reader:) but I must say I feel enormously chuffed with myself having accomplished what feels like so much, but really, without expending much extra energy at all, just doing a little each day. More life lessons.

Saturday: There are really no significant cleaning jobs to do in the bedroom, so a nice day off - except for one annoying job. I have been meaning to scrape the builders stickers off the 'new' window for, oh, two years now. So today was the day. Four minutes. Two years!!

And today, the only thing I had to clear off the bed was the cat..

So how about you? Bedroom an oasis of tranquility? Or will you join me in sending some of that stuff to a better place?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Green and Thrifty

The green and thrifty adventures at Chez Blueday continue apace.

Walking to the gym continues to be a wonderful interlude in my day. I walk through an avenue of ornamental pear trees which are currently in bloom. Every single garden in my neighbourhood is bristling with daffodils, magnolia trees, blossoming pink plum trees, camellias and rhododendrons. If I was whizzing past in my car, I would miss all this floriferous deliciousness, sunshine and life-enhancing exercise. What's not to love?

I'm considering other destinations I could reach on foot. It takes all of twenty minutes to reach the centre of town from my front door (there are hills though...whine, whine). Farmers' market, twenty five minutes or so. And you know, I am so whiny and lazy, that even though I love my short gym walk, and never want to drive it again, I still think walking into town will be hard. Please take me to task in the comments, and tell me to get out of my car and into the Great Outdoors.

Ok, problem of social etiqutte here that I need advice on: this winter I ran out of black socks without holes in them. I only had two pairs to start with, but now they are both languishing in the mending pile, with no action on that front. The helper elves haven't visited. So then I reclaimed some yummy thick bamboo socks from Rosy that I bought for her for school camp. They are wonderfully warm, but too thick to wear with nice shoes, so then I purloined some of The Man's. He has several dozen pairs of socks between two states, and I'm sure he won't miss a couple of pairs. They are a bit big, but who is going to notice or care? They are black socks worn with black shoes and long pants, ie invisible.

Then I was inspired to stop using tissues and start using hankies like a proper nana (thanks for the motivation Lucinda). Problem is, I own delicately embroidered nana hankies, inherited from nanas, which aren't really useful for actually blowing a nose. So I revisited The Man's wardrobe downstairs and sequestered several of his numerous man hankies as well, and can now blow my nose in capacious comfort, without consuming trees or hurting my nose on embroidery. Now, this is my awkward social problem, and I need to canvass opinion on this - it is totally normal to steal underwear from one's ex-husband, isn't it? Good, just checking.

More green and thrifty goodness: yesterday I made two batches of bathroom cleaning paste, and one of toilet cleaner, so I really have no excuse not to clean the bathroom.

Last night I had enormous fun making toothpaste and sunscreen at Tanya's Living Better Group. Can you imagine that? Toothpaste and sunscreen, those mysterious concoctions that are magically manufactured in plastic tubes, by some mysterious alchemical process in far away factories, can actually be whipped up by ordinary folk in kitchens with forks and whisks, with not a glass retort or white lab coat in sight. I will be road testing these concoctions over the coming weeks, and will be able to provide a review of their effectiveness in the fullness of time (I am not sure quite how to evaluate the toothpaste, other than on taste. How do I rate its effectiveness in anything less than a five year dental health study with a separate control group?). You can find the recipes on Lisa's facebook page. She ran a wonderful workshop for us, and is a mine of information on all sorts of things I never imagined it was possible to make myself.

I have also been pottering away with my decluttering project which has been relatively painless so far, which is why I started with the hallway! Today I have been cleaning walls and decobwebbing ceilings. This wraps up Week One of what promises to be quite the multi-week project. Frances has been busy decluttering this week as well, and as always manages to be practical and philosophical. I have been enjoying reading her decluttering diaries.

Thrifty garden tip of the week - I have been anxiously watching over some baby tomato plants that popped up in the garden recently, just a little too soon for safety in an uncertain Tasmanian spring, and sure enough about a week and a half ago there was a snap frost. How to protect the tomato babies? I have read about horticultural fleece in overseas gardening books, but never seen it for sale here, so I improvised - with teddy bear stuffing, popped over the top of the seedlings, skewered into place with wooden skewers. The baby tomatoes survived, and now I have a bag of teddy bear stuffing in my gardening cupboard.

Eating out of the garden this week: lettuce, lemons, the first oregano of the season, parsley, rhubarb, garlic chives. Planted: snow peas in the school garden. Cheerful chaos!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Declutter Week One: Entry and Hallway

I have been looking forward to today for ages. All those piles of mess around the house that have been annoying me - I have been giving them little sideways glances, thinking, 'Huh, your days are numbered..' Mmm, yes, it is probably a sign that I should get out more, but I am thrilled to announce the beginning of my Whole House Decluttering and Spring Cleaning Project.

This week I will be tackling the front verandah, entryway and hallway.

First, the front verandah. Earlier this year it was painted a charming shade of grey. Unfortunately, as I have discovered, charming grey shows up all the dirt. My task this week will be sweeping, then scrubbing the front verandah. Luckily it is quite small. When we had it painted I moved everything off it. I used to have a box of shoes there, with the idea of keeping dirty shoes out of the house. In reality everyone ignored it, and the only shoes left languishing in it were those which had actually been outgrown, and were full of dirt and spiders. So each child now has a shoe tub in their room, muddy shoes go into the back porch closet, and there is no shoe clutter around the front door. I love this!

Next, the entryway. Above is the hall table. This whole project has been scaring me principally because of the hall table drawers. First of all, I use the top of the hall table as a first port of call mail drop. Then I open mail, mostly ignore it and pop it in the middle drawer for further action or filing, thus:

Aargh, I hate mail, unless it is lovely parcels or postcards from friends. Anything that requires me to make a decision, a phone call or pay something makes me twitchy, so I ignore it. Except if it is school related, then I pop it in the yellow folder so my life doesn't fall apart completely. That is two baskets, each the size of about two shoe boxes, absolutely stuffed to the brim with pieces of paper I need to Look At, and Make Decisions About this week. I am feeling a little tired now, and might need a nap..

The only drawer worse than this one is the top drawer, which is the receptacle for every item in the house that doesn't have another home. Also, every week when I dust the hall table, I throw everything on it into the top drawer. Unless it is a piece of paper, in which case it goes into the second drawer.

Then there is the third drawer which contains everything I have borrowed and need to give back to friends. Easy items whiz in and out effortlessly to people I see quite often. Unfortunately about three quarters of the drawer consists of items that have been there for years belonging to ? Now I have to decide what to do with the orphans.

The only other piece of furniture in the hallway is a large bookcase containing all my books. Several years ago I threw out so much of our stuff when we renovated the house. It was great. I have never been able to part with books, but I was very brave and heroic, and just did it. I now have one single book case, and have to give away books when it gets too difficult to pass it in the hallway without tipping the piled-up books onto the floor. It is at that point again. More books need to go.

So, jobs this week:
First, remove all the visible clutter.
Clean out those terrifying hall table drawers.
Throw out some books.
Sweep and scrub front verandah.
Clean around all the light switches.
Remove cobwebs from the ceiling.
Clean hallway light fittings.

That should keep me out of trouble. I'll update as I go along.

So tell me, would you like to join me decluttering your hallways this week? And what awful secrets do you have lurking in cupboards and drawers in your hallway? Do tell.

Monday: Well, usually Monday morning starts off slowly, because, well, it's Monday. Today I raced around doing my Monday jobs, did the grocery shopping, went up to the school to work in the school garden, then finally got to start decluttering around 2.30pm. I was going to write the day off completely, but no, decluttering can go so fast when you actually DO it:) I cleaned off the top of the hall table. There were several notes to call people, such as the council and the builder, and I did it, actually sorted jobs that have been languishing in my hall table 'to do' pile for months. Oh, the heady sense of power. This must be how organised people feel all the time.

Then I tackled the third drawer, the one full of Unknown Objects that have been there for years, and possibly belong to people I haven't seen since 1999. I made the executive decision to send it all to the op shop, figuring if people have gone without their precious things for this many years, they probably don't need them. This is the moment to make a silent note to self, everyone. Never lend me anything. I am clearly not a responsible person. There is one single book remaining in the drawer which is rather a nice one. I have just this minute remembered who it belongs to. Goody. I even know where they live:)

Lastly, there is a constant pile of bags in my hallway:

Most of the mess in our house is caused by the hordes of children, but I must take responsibility for everything in this pile. Gym bag, work bag, handbag, grocery bags. They are always there, getting in the way. I decided to unclutter the hallway permanently by storing all of these bags in my bedroom. I will now have to walk at least ten extra steps every time I walk into the house.

Tuesday: I did it! I put on loud music, surrounded myself with the recycling bin, the phone, my diary, the bin, and processed every single, evil piece of paper in my house. Hallelujah, it is a decluttering miracle. Actually, it wasn't all song and dance. At some point around lunch time it got quite tedious, so I made a deal with myself. Ten minutes of watching Hercule Poirot, ten minutes of filing and so on. This worked wonders, and I was all done before Posy came home from school. Now to continue this filing miracle every week (Wednesday is my filing, bill paying, paperwork day. Hypothetically..)

Wednesday: Top drawer, done. This one was perplexing. So many tiny and annoying things had been thrown in there over the years. In the end I tipped everything out on the living room floor, and forced myself to spend five minutes in there every half hour or so throughout the day, putting a couple of things away, throwing a couple of things out, making a decision or two. Done by the end of the day. I feel so much lighter now:)

Thursday: Before:


My challenge today was to pull one book that I don't absolutely love out of the bookshelf every time I walked past. I walked past this many times:

And now all the books fit in the bookshelf.  And now I really have to get me to the op shop with my bags and bundles and lighten the load on the house just that bit more.

Friday: Here I am at the end of the week. Last night I took a pile of books to our Better Living Group (this was last month's amazing workshop). That got rid of some of them, then today I took the rest to the op shop. Today was the last job. Cleaning. All winter I have been glaring morosely at the festoons of cobwebs in my hallway. Today I pulled out my cobweb broom and got rid of them all. I think it took about four minutes. There is a lesson in there somewhere..

Then I put some warm water, dishwashing liquid and eucalyptus oil in a bucket, and tackled the grimy light switches and many grubby handprints courtesy of my youngest daughter. I scrubbed the front and back doorsteps and the front verandah. I tell you this, there is absolutely nothing better for making you feel like a proper housekeeper than scrubbing the front doorstep on your knees. Should you want to feel like a proper housekeeper, that is.

All this took less than an hour. And there we have it. The first week of decluttering and spring cleaning done and dusted. It was surprisingly less painful than I thought it would be.

Next week is school holidays. So I will be bribing the girls to declutter their bedrooms. Now that will be painful. Do you feel like joining me?

So tell me, did you do any decluttering this week? How did you go?

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Decluttering Principles for the Chronically Disorganised

So this week I am going to begin a whole house declutter and spring clean. The spring sunshine is beaming in to the house showing up grimy corners, tired piles of paperwork, abandoned craft projects and trails of bobby pins. This is rather an ambitious project, and the kind of thing I generally start, then abandon due to the pressing siren calls of the spring garden or other vital necessities like reading the paper or talking to the cat. Hence publishing my intentions here, because I have found that you, lovely readers, are all immensely encouraging, and also good at nagging, and I would love to have you help me accomplish my mission. I of course, would also do the same for any of you:)

I have a few key principles that I follow when I declutter, because I know my weaknesses all too well. I get bored easily. I get distracted easily. And even if I manage to heroically stay on task I am invariably interrupted by some well-timed 'emergency'. These are my strategies:

Pick the low hanging fruit first: Clutter you can see is so much more satisfying to deal with than invisible clutter in cupboards. It is emergency clutter. If a room is cleared of all visual clutter, it looks lovely and is easy to live in. Clutter in cupboards can then be dealt with a shelf at a time. Which leads to..

Clear a small area at a time: It can take less than twenty minutes to clear away all the unnecessary detritus from a tabletop, desk, sideboard, bookshelf or single cupboard shelf. You can do it while you chat to your mum on the phone, or while your daughter tells you interminably about everything she has learned about sedimentary rocks that day at school.

Don't create more piles: Decluttering books will tell you to declutter with three boxes - one for donating, one for rubbish, one for keeping. If I did that I'd just have a bunch of random boxes of stuff sitting around, because I would never come back to it. If I am keeping something, I take it to its new home right away. If I can't find an exact home (maybe in a room that hasn't been sorted out yet) I put it with other similar objects somewhere so I can rehome them later. This takes longer and feels more inefficient, but it pays off when you get interrupted by suddenly needing to cook dinner or pick up children from hockey ('Good lord, is that the time?'), because everything is already put away. Rubbish can go straight in the bin or recycling, donation bag goes straight out to the car. And there is no evidence that you have ever been decluttering at all. Except for the lovely, lovely surfaces.

Do not let more stuff in the house: I find the fact that I have to continually declutter slightly immoral. All this 'stuff' that is leaving the house in bin bags is the product of somebody's imagination and labour, is made using precious and dwindling resources, and cost us time and money. Our life energy and our children's future is bound up in that shocking volume of 'stuff'. It is worth soul-searching and the exercising of considerable ingenuity to evaluate the genuine necessity of bringing more 'stuff' into the house in the first place.

Tell me your thoughts on decluttering - is it cathartic? Do you live a fairly minimalist lifestyle, or are you overwhelmed with too many possessions? Is it possible to live in a creative space with the stuff that you love, which is at the same time cosy and organised?

Here is a woman who has done just that, an artist who lives a simple life in a tiny space but hasn't sacrificed her creative spirit to bare-bones minimalism.

I am still juggling my ideas about stuff, about things that I love, things that I want, things that I need. I think that right now in this spring decluttering project, it is all about divesting my life of those things that I don't love, want or need, so I will more clearly be able to see my way forward with what is left..

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Brilliant Career

Just tricking, I do not have a brilliant career. I am a 43 year old single mother with not a single career in sight. And how, you might ask, does a woman get to the middle of life in this day and age without a proper job? Gather round children, and I will tell you.

When I was in Year 11 at school our career advisor took us to the offices of the local newspaper to scope out careers in journalism. It was night time, the offices were bright and bustling, and everyone everywhere was peddling words. I thought I had found my spiritual home.

But somehow, after school I vaguely drifted off to university and studied English Literature for four years. I enjoyed this immensely. I learned how to think critically, a skill which has stood me in great stead all my life. I learned how to write without frilly adjectives (ha, that didn't stick, did it?). It was all very entertaining, and broadening for the mind for someone who had grown up as a missionary kid. I met The Man, and we got married, because as Good Baptists, that's what you have to do if you are going to take a relationship to the next level. About four minutes after I graduated, I got pregnant.

The Man got a job in Broken Hill, so we moved to the desert and bought a tiny miner's cottage. I volunteered as an adult literacy tutor and reluctantly learned how to cook. The Man took a job in Adelaide and we had baby Number Two. It was very hot in Adelaide that summer so we decided on a whim to move to Tasmania. We wanted to live in a mud brick house in the forest. So we did. Did you know that Tasmanian forests are full of leeches and snakes?

We moved to the suburbs which are mercifully free of nasty bugs and reptiles, and I went back to university to do a Masters of Teaching. A year into this, oops! Baby Number Three. By this time I was home schooling children and rather glad not to be studying. Endless domesticity was doing my head in a bit, so I started an independent on-line children's bookshop for homeschooling parents. This was a joy in that I got to read and review lots of wonderful books and talk to lovely people about the books they needed, but I was absolutely pants at the business side, which was a problem, as it was actually a business, a fact that frequently escaped me. Eventually I moved that 'business' on, but am so pleased that it is still run all these years later by lovely homeschool parents.

In the end, most of the children wanted to go to school, and I decided that being home alone at the merciless whims of Posy would be bad for her character and mine, so they all went to school. Being unable to leave well alone, I volunteered at Posy's school extensively.  In fact, by the second year I had volunteered so much that I was offered some Teacher Assistant work. I now do Teacher Assistant relief work with the Kinder kids whenever I am needed. Which means I get to play with four year olds and get paid for it. Which I think is pretty fun. In a couple of years when Posy is old enough to be home alone for half an hour or so after school, I could do the same thing at other schools. I find relief work suits me wonderfully, because I get to work with lots of different amazing teachers and kids, and do new things all the time. I have a very short attention span, so new is good. This week the office manager rang me to see if I could do relief work in the school office. I just laughed, and asked her how brave she was feeling. But today I did it, and hardly cut anyone off at all on the terrifying phone system, and no doubt caused absolute mayhem with all the school admin systems, but had a ball pretending to be one of the lovely office ladies and dealing with scraped knees and blood noses and lost bus money. I mean seriously, school admin is gloriously messy and unpredictable, and again, so much fun.

To be honest, I don't really consider any of this to be a real job, because it feels a bit like play acting. I put on my boots and a dress and pretend to be a grown up. I don't do it often enough for it to get boring, and when I am there I have a ball. All care taken, but no responsibility! That is the wondrous nature of relief work:) And really, it is ten times easier than all those years I was home alone with small children. But though what I am doing is fun, it is not all that I want to do.

So now, I am contemplating a future which will involve more paid work of some description. I still have children, and I want to be home with them when they are home, and The Man wants that too, and is happy to support me to do that. But I want to work too, and use my brain and try new things. But what? I have about twelve ideas a week, none of which I have acted on so far, because I generally haven't thought them through at all well. I don't think I actually really want a brilliant career. I want to patchwork together a good and satisfying life from a collection of fun little jobs that make me happy. I have thought of going back to uni again so I can be a 'proper' teacher, but I think that what I am doing now is all the fun bits of teaching without the painful bits. And if I was a teacher I couldn't be doing all the other things I want to do. I think about gardening and writing and making things and helping people and I want to do them all, so that is my plan as of this moment. Ok, you are right, that isn't a plan at all, more of an idea. I am all about ideas. Sometimes I even implement one or two.

Here is my question for today - if you could do anything you want to do, completely disregarding ideas of remuneration and social status and what you actually trained for, if any quirky little interest in your life could be expanded into a part time hobby job, what would you do? Or have you taken this to the next level and actually done it? Please tell us all about it. I want some inspiration!

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Real Reasons We Are Overwhelmed by Housework

Every day readers arrive at the Blue Day site looking for help with the house work. Many have desperately typed 'overwhelmed with housework' into Google, and ended up here. It leads the way to a housekeeping routine that is not theoretical, but based on what I actually do (more or less, often less) each week. I think it is rather useful and keeps the place ticking along nicely. However, it isn't quite enough, is it? Useful housekeeping routines abound, but there have been times in my life, where like my readers, I have been absolutely overwhelmed by housework as well. It doesn't seem sensible, does it? Housework is basically a collection of rather repetitive tasks that aren't difficult to learn, and aren't particularly physically demanding for the average person. They are, beyond question, off the scale of tedious towards mind-numbingly boring, depending on your level of tolerance for such things. But that doesn't explain why so many people, including me, have found a clean and tidy house so difficult to achieve.

Here are the places I have found myself in throughout my life when the housework has been overwhelming:

New babies and small children: Chaos, chaos, chaos. Oh, my goodness, is there no end to all the sick and the poop and the crying and the snot and the sleepless nights and the MESS! Well, there is, eventually, but that's not much use in the middle of it all. This is a time for survival, with occasional bursts of unreasonable joy when tickling tiny toes. Sleep when your baby is sleeping, do not use that time to catch up on housework. Mummy-lying-down time is essential. If you can, do the housework with the baby in its little baby seat, watching and learning (you can never start too young..). Toddlers will slow down housework considerably, but try to remember - you are home with your toddler for a reason. Slow down with her. Take two hours to fold washing and do the vacuuming together. There is absolutely nothing more valuable to her educational development and her relationship with you than to count socks and arrange the underwear by colour. Put old socks on your hands and hers and dance to loud music while dusting. You will no doubt go stir crazy whilst doing all this, so make that music REALLY loud.

If you are reading this and pregnant, forget painting the baby's room, it won't care. Take a look around your house and get rid of everything you don't absolutely love RIGHT NOW. Make sure you have cupboard space for everything that is left. Look at all that stuff you have collected for the baby. Get rid of at least half of it. Send all the toys to the charity shop. Babies don't need toys, they need you and a wooden spoon to chew on and cardboard tubes from the paper towel roll to wave around and hoot into. Look around your house again. Is there anything on the floor at all other than furniture? Would a sergeant-major be happy with the state of your cupboards? NOW you are ready to have that baby. I so wish someone had told me this before I had children!

Too late? Already have a baby and a toddler and stuff everywhere? Whenever grandma/your best friend/your sister offers to help, hand over the baby and set about accomplishing the above. It will do so much more for your peace of mind than a movie or candle-lit dinner. If the house is easily tidied, it always looks great, and you can skimp on cleaning. Clutter always looks messy, even if the house is clean. Does the whole decluttering project seem too overwhelming? Don't worry, next week I will be starting my own whole-house decluttering project, and everyone can join in.

Sub-Par Health: When I am healthy I bounce out of bed like a six year old (well, I do if I don't have to get up before 8am. Before that I sigh a tiny bit, but perk up after the first cuppa). I am generally cheerful, swear a bit about cleaning the bathroom again, find most things about my life intriguing, and am excited about new adventures. The times in my life that I have not been healthy I have felt like life was grey, I had no energy, the thought of cleaning the bathroom made me want to weep, and I wanted to climb under the covers and never leave the house again. Last year I discovered I had ridiculously low iron levels which had been causing me to feel tired and draggy for years. I didn't actually realise how awful I had been feeling until I felt better! So if you feel tired and draggy, if something is not quite right, if you are miserable and depressed, please go and see your GP, and ask her about iron levels (a very common women's problem), and probably she will test your thyroid as well, and give you a thorough once over, because probably you haven't actually been to the doctor yourself for a check up for years, have you?

Take away message: Tired, draggy, depressed, weepy, life-is-grey... this is not normal. It is not how life is meant to be. Go and get everything tested. If it all comes back normal, then start to look at your diet, and think about exercise. I know, I know, you've heard it all before. I am not normally into either diet or exercise, but I joined a gym last year, have started walking more, and quit sugar, while adding actual vegetables and wonderful healthy fats (butter, mmm). Lifting weights (quite tiny ones so far, I must add!) has completely sorted out those middle-aged niggly aches and pains, quitting my six cups of tea a day habit has raised my iron levels (rooibos tea has saved the day there), not eating sugar means I have lots of extra minerals being absorbed, and all of those things combined makes for a happy camper who still thinks housework is tedious, but doesn't find it overwhelming anymore.

Of course, if you are sick, and this is your daily reality, then you are in a hard place indeed regarding housework. The best thing I can offer is the advice to new parents. Declutter, declutter, simplify, simplify. Take every offer of help to get 'stuff' out of the way, which will reduce the cleaning workload, and the worry, and part of the burden, which will hopefully impact positively on your health. If you are healthy and know someone who isn't, take them dinner, and ask if they need a hand unloading their stuff and taking things to the charity shop.

Escaping from Pain: Sometimes in my life I have not been overwhelmed by housework so much as just overwhelmed. Sometimes life sends stuff at us that is just hard. Sometimes we might not even want to acknowledge that stuff, even to ourselves, so we look around at the mess we are in, at the housework that is not getting done because we are so consumed by other hard stuff, and think, 'If I can just get the house sorted and clean and pretty like every single other person in the world seems to be able to do, then maybe all this other misery will go away and we can be the Brady Bunch, and every area of my life will be Pinterest worthy, and then I will be happy.'

We human beings don't like to face pain. Why would we? It is hard, and most of us have a highly developed 'flight' instinct. It is very easy for many of us to push unpleasant emotions away, and pretend they are not happening. Unhappy marriage? Constant anxiety about high needs children and their uncertain futures? Complex and dark issues left over from childhood? Difficult and seemingly unsolvable family issues? Many of us self-medicate these problems away from our conscious lives so we don't have to deal with them. Brene Brown, in her brilliant scholarly but vulnerable book The Gifts of Imperfection calls this 'numbing behaviour'. We recognise it when it is done with alcohol and drugs, but what about those of us who 'take the edge off' with compulsive facebook time, comfort eating, extreme busyness (joining the committee of every group we ever belong to, and becoming indispensable), shopping, or in my case, comfort reading. I have recently come to recognise that when I am hiding in my bed in the middle of the day rereading the same old Agatha Christie novel for the nineteenth time, it's not because I want to know 'whodunnit', it's because I am craving the comfort of an ordered world where I know what happens next and everything will be alright at the end.

Sometimes we can be so successful at our smokescreen 'numbing' activities of choice that we don't really recognise that there is a whole underlying layer of misery and anxiety just under our daily life. We know we are unhappy, restless and unsatisfied, but we don't know why. Then we look around our house at the mess caused by being busy, compulsive shopping, spending time on the internet or watching TV, and we decide that it is the housework that is overwhelming.

The cure for this existential malaise is not a better housework routine, or more determination. It is recognising our mindless, desperate daily addictions for what they are. It is fearfully, but with enormous bravery, quieting down and listening to what that tiny still voice at our centre is saying. It is fearfully, but with enormous bravery, telling another human being about the fears, the anxieties, the dark places, the uncertainties, the unhappiness. That is the first step of the immensely hard task of becoming a whole and honest person, and that, my dear friends, is the first step towards happiness. Once you are happy and healthy, keeping house ceases to be overwhelming, and resumes its rightful place in the order of the universe as a tedious necessity with the pleasant consequences of comfort and peace.

Sometimes, of course, the hard stuff that life throws at us is not at all hidden. Sometimes it is the bleeding obvious. Birth, death, sickness, grief. Life happens. For this last year I have spent many hours of most days lying on my bed looking at the ceiling, or howling in corners as I contemplated the dissolution of my marriage. I did the bare minimum of housework, and counted the day a success if I made dinner. The children got a reasonable amount of exercise walking to the shop to buy packets of fish fingers, and I managed to keep on top of the washing if not the ironing (I am convinced that school jumpers were invented to hide the fact that Bad Mothers don't iron school shirts).

Again, the reason that the house isn't in too bad a shape now that I am recovering a bit of a spring in my step is that several years ago, I threw out most of our stuff, and fiercely guard the front door to make sure no more gets in. It is worth repeating this one true fact about housekeeping. A tidy house looks clean, even when it isn't. A messy, cluttered house always looks a bit grimy, even if it is perfectly clean. So let's not waste our precious life energy cleaning a cluttered house. Stuff is overwhelming many of our houses. It is making us poor, and wrecking the planet. It also makes difficult times in our lives so much more difficult, frustrating and overwhelming.

Unfortunately, stuff follows my children like rats followed the Pied Piper. I haven't been as diligent as I would like to be this year about keeping spaces clear and continuing to shuffle stuff straight back out the door. Therefore next week I am going to start a multi-week House Clearance project, working through every area of the house so we can all breathe easy again. For those who are already nicely organised I am going to add the particular cleaning jobs that my own house is crying out for, which may make your house happy too.

So join me next week to fight the good fight, until we are all in a place where although we may be overwhelmed by many things, life being what it is, at least we won't be overwhelmed by the housework.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Unexpected Thrills of Shopping Seconhand

This week I bought a budgie cage from Gumtree for Posy's birthday. From a man who is quite the jolly vendor.

Turns out, I could have bought one for exactly the same price at the pet shop. So, life lesson for this week: it pays to research before buying secondhand. However, I prevented one more budgie cage from being manufactured or sent to landfill, and I got to meet John the comic, which was more fun than going to Pet Barn. Also, on the way home I visited an op shop in a part of town I never get to. Often, op shops seem a tad overpriced to me, but this one is brilliant. Everything is very reasonably priced, and I found such treasure (for Launceston locals, it was the Mission shop in Prospect. Give them time to restock after I cleaned them out).

First, a plaid wool blanket ($4) to keep me warm while reading on my bed. I washed this on the wool cycle in my front loader this week, and dried it on the line. It smells of lavender oil and sunshine now, and is doing sterling service encouraging me to be idle:)

Cheerful pure cotton sheets for Posy ($2.50 each).

Next, my children enjoy breaking and chipping drinking glasses. I think it is a hobby. Anyway, most of our collection was Nutino glasses (Nutella ripoff) which I am not buying anymore due to our household sugar ban. I absolutely love these French and Turkish cafe-style glasses (20c each) which are thick and sturdy, and hopefully less likely to succumb to the vicissitudes of everyday life at Chez Blueday.

I also found these milkshake glasses, ($1 each) which exactly match two we already own. I am planning cheap and healthy home-made milk shakes this summer, made with this brilliant, cheap and delicious home made chocolate syrup (ok, yes. There is rather a lot of sugar in this. But, it is a once-a-week treat. Sugary treats now consist of one treat, one dessert, and one batch of baking per week, as a balancing act between mummy's dietary fanaticism, and a normal childhood..)

Four white side plates (20c each). See note above. The children like to crash these together while unpacking the dishwasher. I only ever buy white, or blue-and-white crockery so that everything always matches. Because, yes, I am a control freak.

Adorable spotty bowl for Rosy to keep all her hair bands in (50c). I saw this exact bowl in Target last year, and desperately wanted to buy it for her, but just couldn't bring myself to, due to giant warehouse rage. I feel smugly vindicated. Putting this away for Christmas.

I also found a book my mum wants for 20c, and a copy of The Shipping News, a book I have wanted to read since I watched the movie a few years ago (love, love both).

So, very happy about my charity shop haul, and even though I was ripped off by Gumtree John, I more than recouped the cost of the budgie cage by savings at the Mission shop. You know, I am someone who hates shopping. I hate fitting it into a day where I could otherwise be gardening, visiting friends or reading a book. Many years ago when we were on a strict budget, I shopped charity shops for all the kids' clothes and lots of our furniture, but that went out the window as The Man began to earn more. It became so convenient just to drive to Target, pick up whatever I wanted with very little thought or pain, whilst pushing down those worrisome thoughts about the impact this habit was having on the state of the planet, let alone the terrible waste of so much of The Man's life energy that was being turned into money just so I could buy another lamp..

And yet I convinced myself that the Target habit was easier, that it's really inconvenient to shop second hand, traipsing from charity shop to garage sale to Gumtree pick up. However, I have had a lot of fun this week, hunting for treasure, meeting Crazy John. It adds a little adventuresome flavour to life to do something different, to not get what you expect, but maybe find something else you need, or something that delights you that you had no idea you even yearned for.

I read this Leunig poem to the girls this week, and I think it captures the left-of-field, surprising nature of second hand shopping:

God give us rain when we expect sun.
Give us music when we expect trouble.
Give us tears when we expect breakfast.
Give us dreams when we expect a storm.
Give us a stray dog when we expect congratulations.
God play with us, turn us sideways and around.

from A Common Prayer

Maybe the unexpectedness of shopping away from the big box stores will make me braver, more resourceful, more willing to laugh in the face of soulless convenience, more creative, more human.

But let's not get carried away. Not being in control makes me a bit anxious and grumpy. At least as anxious and grumpy as I am when parking in one of those multi-storey car parks.. which maybe I will never have to do again.. because op shops don't tend to have them..

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Brave New World

I was once married to a very practical Man. He is an engineer, and he can do anything from tiling a bathroom, building a cubby house, putting in a staircase, to doing the wiring for a whole house. He can solve all the computer problems, fix the plumbing and change a tire. Due to his ridiculously over-the-top excellence at All Things Manly I tended not to even think about how the house worked. That was all The Man’s province. When things broke, I put them on The List, and waited for them magically to become fixed.

This is not to say that I don’t have my own areas of expertise. I concentrated on those things I am good at, or had to become good at due to necessity, such as baby whispering, cooking dinner every night, grocery shopping on a budget, reading aloud and growing tomatoes and daffodils.

Now, of course, our carefully maintained system is not going to work anymore. The Man is a good soul, and perfectly ready to help out, but is not often here. The list of things that I am going to need to become good at due to necessity has grown enormously. Since The Boy left home, the girls and I have had to put the bins out ourselves. I know, shock, horror. Also, we had to work out how to make the lawn mower mow (since this debacle The Man kindly bought us an electric mower with a push button start. Mowing the lawn has now become one of my favourite jobs).

When I first contemplated life as a solo home owner (which will soon be my new status), I was rather overwhelmed. There are so many bits that can break, fall off and cease to function in a house. I am not a practical person. I am not someone who does things, so much as someone who thinks about doing things, and how lovely it will all be when it is done. Start explaining to me how something actually works, and my mind starts going, ‘La, la, la..’ Start drawing diagrams and I begin to feel a desperate urge to have a little nap.

Slowly though, I have begun to tentatively feel a little excited about the idea of my house. This is now my little kingdom. There are bits that need painting (again), there are flourishing ecosystems growing in the gutters, there are bushes that grew into trees and need to be removed. I suddenly feel a keen sense of responsibility to not let it fall into a sad state of disrepair. Once, that was The Man’s job, something I didn’t really even think about, and now, it is my baby and I must look after it.

But of course, that is easier said than done for someone whose greatest technological achievement to date is recording movies on the Tivo (even then I need help when the guide tells me it is going to clip my other program. What to do? What to do? How on earth will I ever get to watch a whole movie when all the children leave home?). My first big test came last week when the pool cleaner stopped working. The pool vacuum cleaner, affectionately known as Creepy, stopped creeping and just sat there sullenly, refusing to clean away a winter’s worth of leaves and detritus. Well, who could blame him? It is not the varied and fulfilling career he had dreamed of. How to inspire him to get back to work? First I panicked, then I coaxed, and offered Creepy a pay rise. Nothing. Then I sighed and set about trying to be logical. There was nothing blocking Creepy’s prodigious mouth, all his bits were appropriately joined together, the filter wasn’t full of leaves. At this point I had to brave the pool shed and look at the pump. This is a big step. There are machines in there that go ‘ping’, with digital readouts for technical things that require a manual to decipher. But mercy be, the pump thingy was blocked. I managed to undo the lid without much swearing, and take out several days’ worth of munched up leaves. Creepy quit his strike action, and I learned to check the pump regularly for detritus during the end of winter clean up.

I am feeling quite pleased with myself at this evidence that I am not completely incapable of solving a problem that is not homework- or housework-related. Sure, it is tiny on the scale of Things That Can Go Wrong, but optimism is another of my hidden powers. Deep down, I am always convinced that Everything Will Be Fine.

Although yesterday when the water heater broke (probably from exhaustion), and we were left with the option of lukewarm showers or staying dirty, I decided that even optimism has its limits, and called the Lovely Plumber.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Granny Squares

Two weeks ago my lovely mum and dad came to visit. They pottered about, drank lots of coffee, did puzzles with the children, took everyone out for giant ice creams, hummed a lot (my dad), and crocheted without cease (my mum). And this (the crocheting) was what I had been waiting for. You see, a year ago, my lovely parents came to visit, at which time my mum taught me how to crochet granny squares.

Living in such a chilly locality, winter is much more bearable with throw rugs on the sofa to snuggle into. A couple of years ago I bought throw rugs from Target The Department Store Which Shall Not Be Named, and these rugs, which I don't even really like, are falling apart, unravelling, and resisting all attempts to mend them. So last year I pulled out the crate with all the wool in it that I have saved for/from various projects over the years, and chose some lovely, natural real wool in calm and warming neutral hues, and mum taught me how to make granny squares. I made five. Then mum left. I then proceeded to not crochet a single stitch over the next year.

So when mum came back, we had a refresher course, and all the girls sat around, crocheting feverishly, because it turns out that granny squares are kind of addictive. I even turned out another two over the course of two hockey games on Saturday morning. And here is a thing I discovered about craft. It is a great conversation starter. A couple of hockey mums who I knew only to say hello to were intrigued enough at what we were doing to increase our acquaintance status to friendly conversation status. Nice. Thank you nana craft. See, those nanas know what they're doing when they knit on buses. Networking.

What I love about granny squares so far:

They are small and portable. Unlike knitting a throw rug, these little honeys fit in a handbag.
They provide a sense of accomplishment. I can finish one in an hour. I know I need to make about 500 more, but it's like crossing items off a list, which we all know is very satisfying.
They only require tiny amounts of wool. Each round, or square is a different shade of brown, grey or cream. This means I can buy any tiny little ball of wool at op shops, or find half balls or bits and pieces at garage sales or left overs from friends' projects and it will all look like it is part of The Plan. In fact most of the wool I have so far is from one of those huge, hand-knitted jumpers made of hand-spun wool that make you look like an actual llama when you wear one. I found this one at an op-shop years ago, and unravelled it and rolled it into balls, because I had convinced myself I was going to knit a whole farm-yard of animals for the children. I knitted some chickens then got inexplicably tired. I now have lots of cream and light brown balls, but have run out of grey and dark brown, so will have to go prospecting for more.
They are addictive. 'Just one more round,' I tell myself at bedtime, time to cook dinner, time to clean the bathroom etc. This is possibly the only way I can actually finish this project, because I am not naturally a 'finisher'. I am generally more of a 'starter' and then a 'languisher'.

So I need back-up here. Do you think that maybe you could gently nag me every couple of weeks to keep me on track? Perhaps I could keep a running 'square tally'.  So far there are 17 squares, a knitted headband and a duck feather in my basket.

Wish me 'duck'.