Our Lilliput Library!

We’ve been moved in a few weeks now.

The boxes are (almost!) gone from the hallway, the kids (all four of them!) are settled in, and things are looking sorted. So on the weekend it was time to put up our own new Lilliput Library.

Here it is, looking lovely at our front gate:

Lilliput Libraries are a community project, started in Dunedin by Ruth Arnison a few years ago. Our own library is No 109, so there are a fair number around Dunedin now! You can view their locations around Dunedin on Google Maps.

The project has a WordPress blog, also run by Ruth. The Libraries also have a Facebook page and an Instagram page, with some lovely images of the various libraries around Dunedin. Take a look. Some of the artwork is absolutely beautiful.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

This is my friend Lhizz Browne’s Lilliput Library.

Lhizz’s Lilliput Library is up and running at 186 Pine Hill, so drop by and grab or add a book to this lovely library.

The library below has Diane Smith as its Guardian. She commisioned artist Jack Pillans to paint her fence to match, and the result is stunning. You can view the Lilliput Library – and the fence artwork – at 71 Newington Avenue:

Diane Smith’s beautiful Lilliput Library and fence artwork by local artist Jack Pillans.

Sharing books is a wonderful thing to do!

Lilliput Libraries are based on the concept of book sharing:

Take a book now…
Return or donate a book later.

Whenever you see a Lilliput Library, feel free to open the door and have a browse. Choose a book you’d like to read. You can keep the book for a while, or forever – Lilliput Libraries are cost-free, and there’s no membership required.

Then, if you are able, share a book back to any Lilliput Library when you can.

It’s that simple!

Becoming a Lilliput Library “Guardian

If you’d like to become a “Guardian” of a Lilliput Library in Dunedin, contact Ruth Arnison via the Lilliput Libraries blog. She’s a lovely lady and is incredibly helpful.

If you’re an artist or have carpentry skills, or can donate paint or woodworking products and you would like to support the Lilliput Libraries project, please also contact Ruth.

If you live in another city and would like to start up your own Lilliput Libraries scheme or build your own independent Lilliput Library, I can’t think of a lovelier way to encourage community and reading!

Decluttering before Christmas

One of the simplest and best habits to keep clutter under control during the holiday season – particularly kid clutter! – is to have a big clear out before Christmas.

My kids actually really enjoy clearing out their stuff prior to the Big Day. They associate getting rid of old belongings with making room for new, better items.

They see decluttering as a good thing, not a bad thing.

We set aside an entire day to do the job. Like most decluttering sessions, we work by category and give the process plenty of time. The kids themselves choose what is to go and what stays – although I’m there to help with suggestions and advice if they need it.

We set aside anything that is good enough to give to friends or to charity in a separate pile, and make sure it gets delivered right away.

Electronics and computer games go into a third pile, as they can be resold or traded for extra cash. The kids love this! So do I, as it’s an excellent lesson in how little things are worth once they become second-hand. The kids have become much wiser and now shop for their computer games in the “trade and save” section of the electronics store. They’ve wised up 🙂

We’re quite ruthless with the pre-Christmas clearout. My kids and I know, from experience, that once the new stuff arrives the old stuff would largely get ignored anyway. So it makes sense to pass it all on, so there’s plenty of room to appreciate the new stuff.

And you know what? We’ve never once regretted getting rid of anything. Not one thing.

So here’s my short list of tips for an effective pre-Christmas clearout:

    1. Give it plenty of time. Clearing out with my kids takes a whole day. Kids often take time to decide. Don’t push them.

    2. Work by category. An example of this is my daughter’s art supplies. Instead of sorting them where we find them, we gather everything together in one place, then sort them through, eliminating everything she doesn’t need or use. This sort of stuff sure piles up through the year!

    3. Suggest new owners. Help kids remember that their cast off items can be of genuine use to others. Their favourite shirt that no longer fits may make a friend very happy. A too-short jacket may keep another child warm through winter. Most children are kind by nature and love to know they are helping others.

    4. Remind them that new items are coming. If kids are wary about passing their old belongings on, remind them that Santa is on his way, and room will be needed for the new items!

    5. Teach them the value of trading and selling with high-priced items. Take the kids down with items to trade and sell and give them the money they earn from selling their items. They’ll soon want to get rid of more unused items, be sure of it!

    6. Bag up items right away and take the children to the charity drop-off with you. Kids need to feel that their generosity is doing others good. They should be a part of the whole process.

    7. Clean their rooms together, top to bottom, once the clearout is done. Teach your child to take pride in their personal space. There! Doesn’t that look terrific?!

Are you planning a pre-Christmas decluttering session? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, I’d love to hear them!


It’s almost Christmas. So let’s give.

I sometimes feel old-fashioned, but I genuinely believe that Christmas – and all the holiday season, no matter how you celebrate – has gotten out of hand.

Didn’t it used to be about giving, caring for others who are less fortunate, and loving our families? Or did that get lost in translation somewhere in time?

These days, there’s so much pressure to spend, spend, spend. Our kids all want the latest gadgets. We seem to never be able to keep up with fashion. We’re told our Christmas decorations are “outdated” and our Christmas dinners are not flamboyant enough.

It all feels a bit crazy.

So I’m suggesting it’s time we families fought back. It’s time communities fought back. There’s nothing wrong with giving gifts to our loved ones, but there’s a thing called moderation that society seems to have forgotten.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a festive meal either, but there’s this old-fashioned sin called gluttony that does nobody any favours.

It’s time to take a step back, and remember what Christmas is all about.

Giving without thought for ourselves

I remember a scene from the wonderful classic children’s book, Little Women, in which the March girls give their Christmas breakfast to a hungry family. The girls were not wealthy by today’s standards, but they gave generously and were better people because of it.

It was a scene that made an impact on me, because I’ve never done anything so generous myself. Perhaps I need to. Perhaps we all do.

Quote from Lousa May Alcott's "Little Women". Image from The Salonierre's apartments blog.

Quote from Lousa May Alcott’s “Little Women”. Image from The Salonierre’s apartments blog.

Christmas is a time to give. It’s time to remember those who have nothing. It is a time to honour friendships and family, to make amends with those we have wronged, and to create peace in our communities.

So when you plan your gift list, plan your giving list too.
If you don’t have time, give money or in kind. If money is tight, plan to give time. If neither is an option, offer simple, random acts of kindness that will impact the lives of others in small, but significant ways.


Make a difference to someone you don’t know this Christmas. Make life better for a stranger. Make life beautiful for a child in need, or for a family without comfort.

Is it too early to say it?: Have a happy Christmas.

Do the poor deserve our junk?

I dropped off a box of donations at the charity shop today. What I saw made my heart break.

The whole of the back of the shop was a junkyard. People had dumped broken tables, broken chairs, a mattress so stained and old I’m surprised anyone had used it in years…or maybe they hadn’t.

When I put the box of carefully folded, sorted clothing inside the door, I passed a single broken shoe that someone had carelessly thrown in the porch.

People are using charity shops as junkyards, not as a way to genuinely help those in need with items we don’t need any more.

I’ve talked with the staff there. All volunteers, apart from the Manager. They’ve said they get so much rubbish they don’t know what to do with it. A full sized skip (dumpster) goes out every fortnight, and it’s packed full.

That skip is full of rubbish we’ve dumped at them, because we were too lazy to sort our cast-off belongings. Or maybe we saw it as the cheap alternative – instead of disposing of things properly, using the charity shops as a dumping ground for trash.

Do the poor deserve our junk? That’s what I’m asking. Do we really think they deserve our rubbish? Because I’ve known plenty of poor people in my life, although I’m been blessed enough to never have been poor myself. They were mostly ordinary people just like me, who were doing it hard through no fault of their own. They didn’t deserve to be poor, any more than me.

I don’t think anyone deserves my junk. If the best I can give is my rubbish, then I am the problem here.

And look: if you think all poor people deserve to be poor, please just walk away from this blog now. Because we have nothing to say to one another right now.

When we bring items to donate, we should be asking: Could I use this? Would I give this to a friend in need? Would I give these shoes / this jacket / these jeans to a little girl or boy I genuinely cared about?

If the answer is no, then cut them up for rags or throw them away.

And no, nothing is ever “too good” for the charity shop. Giving our best to charity should be a natural thing, not something we avoid.

Charity should be a gift from the heart, a gift with kindness and thought attached – the only strings it should ever have. It should be something we do because we care, not because it’s a convenient way to dispose of junk.

Kindness is a virtue. Maybe it’s time we all remembered that.


Don’t let gifts be a burden

I’ve cleared a lot of unused items from my home over the years since becoming a minimalist. Many I’ve donated, and many I’ve given to friends.

I always try to remember to tell my friends, when they receive my cast-offs or gifts, “Don’t feel obliged to keep it should you change your mind.”

Gifts are not supposed to become burdens. When we receive things from people that love us, they’re not intended to weigh us down.

Our loved ones give us stuff to help us out. To be kind. Because they think we might like it or it might be useful to us.

So don’t ever feel obliged to keep anything you’re given.

I know a lot of people feel they must keep gifts. That’s not so. You have no responsibility to keep any items you’re given. Not ever.

If you don’t need or want something, no matter who gave it to you or how valuable it might be, let it go. Donate it, give it to someone else, or sell it.

Don’t let it weigh you down a moment longer. Because nobody ever wanted that.


Death and clutter: clearing the home of a dead parent

    “When they die, our family members don’t want their belongings to be a burden to us.”

My friend’s father died a month ago. He was elderly, and lived a long, good life, but his death left behind a mountain of belongings for his children to sort through.

It was awful. My friend was still grieving, still mourning the loss of a good man who had meant everything to her, and yet she had to sort through a whole household of stuff, together with her sister.

Her father had kept everything. There was a full kitchen, three full bedrooms of furniture and belongings, and a twin garage that had been a general “catch all” for everything the house didn’t fit. The car had never been housed there – only more stuff.

At first my friend and her sisters tried to keep a few mementos. Then a few more. They shared out the photos, and the knick-knacks, and a few pieces of the better furniture. Then they started going through the old postcards, the old school certificates, the baby teeth. It soon got out of control.

“It got really emotionally draining,” she told me. “After a while, we decided to just sell everything that we thought we could sell, and bin the rest. We didn’t have the emotional strength to deal with it all, because we remembered so much of it, and were forced to deal with all this stuff on top of Dad’s death. Everything we threw out felt like a betrayal of him.”

Even after putting the better items up online for sale, and having several garage sales, there was very little money to be made from selling the belongings. My friend told me she might have made “a few hundred dollars, at most.”

This was a surprise to her. “Compared with the hundreds of thousands that the house sold for, it seemed it was hardly worth it,” she said. “The stuff itself was worth virtually nothing. In retrospect, I wish we’d just given everything to charity. And I think, maybe, that’s what Dad might have wanted anyway.”

The only thing of true value most people own is a house

The truth is, all of the belongings that we own, unless it’s genuine antiques or valuables, are worth very little once they leave the store. They cost a lot to replace, but on the secondhand market they won’t give you much.

The only thing of true value most people own is a house. This is the case, time after time after time.

This is something my Dad – a natural minimalist – knew when he cleared out my grandmother’s house over in England a few years ago.

Rather than go through it all, he simply selected a few items of remembrance and real value (a couple of old photo albums, two paintings she’d done, her jewellery), then gave the keys over to the Salvation Army charity guys.

The charity did the rest for him, clearing out the house and finding items of value to sell and gift to those in need. Grandma had been a Salvation Army member, so Dad knew she would have wanted that.

Then Dad sold the house. Everything was done, easily and quickly, with little stress and with real benefit to a valued charity that Grandma had worked with all her life.

Everything Dad kept for us fit in a small bag. And now, years on, the things we have that belonged to her are all the more meaningful because they are few, and were carefully selected.

Life is too short to spend on death

Life is short. And if I know one thing it is this: when they die, our family members don’t want their belongings to be a burden to us.

Eventually many of us do have to clear out the homes of elderly parents when they die. It’s a common thing a lot of people go through. Here are some suggestions on how to make the process easier:

  • Find trusted friends to help. Their perspective – and cups of tea! – can really help keep things level when it feels like your world is turning upside-down.
  • Deal with food first. Donate everything you will not use to a food bank as soon as possible.
  • Find the photo albums, jewellery and artworks. Almost everything else will likely be of little value. Keep these, if you want.
  • Contact a worthy local charity. Explain the situation, and ask that they help clear the house for you. Donate all furniture, whitegoods, kitchen items, toys, tools and clothing immediately. If necessary, ask a friend to accompany the charity staff while they clean the house out.
  • Ask a friend to deal with other paperwork. Ask a friend to deal with all paperwork other than photos. That includes old school books, certificates, birthday cards, and anything else the deceased may have kept. Don’t deal with these yourself, as it will be emotionally draining.
  • Estate auctions can be useful. If the deceased owned a lot of truly valuable items, estate auctions can help clear things out and earn some reasonable items. My parents own a lot of very valuable antique furniture and china, and I’ll probably go down this route when I have to deal with their passing.
  • Make a will. Make things easier for the next generation. If you haven’t made a will yet, do it as soon as possible. Keep it simple and clear, and don’t bequeath specialist items.
  • Never fight over stuff. People – and relationships – are worth more than that. If your brother, or sister, or cousin really wants something, let them have it. It’s just stuff, and probably worth a lot less than you think.


Reverse Advent Calendar: here’s how!

Now this is the best idea for Christmas I’ve seen in a long while:

Seen on Facebook. Idea and image from www.muminthemadhouse.com

Seen on Facebook. Idea and image from Mum In the Mad House

If you can’t see the image the idea is simple. Start the Reverse Advent Calendar when you start your regular Advent Calendar.

Grab a basket or box, and every day leading up to Christmas, add something useful to the box (tinned food, cleaning stuff, toys, whatever you think would be welcome).

Then, on Christmas Eve (or even a day or two before), donate the entire basket and contents to your local charity.

This year, make someone else’s Christmas a little bit brighter.

Merry Christmas!