Cleaning a fence

Sometimes renovation just means cleaning.

On the weekend, my partner and I tackled the back fence. It had clearly never been cleaned in a long time. There was an old trellis supporting some scrawny, nondescript plants, and the wood was covered in green mossy built up from years of neglect.

I snipped off the daggy old metal trellis with a pair of bolt cutters. The cutters made short work of the old plastic-coated metal. Bolt cutters are one of my favourite tools – I always feel like a superhero when I’m bolt-cutting something!

My other favourite tool is a sledgehammer 🙂

Usually I like to salvage materials where possible, but the trellis was probably 30 years old, and no good for anything except disposal, being plastic-coated. It has gone to landfill now.

I left the old fencing nails that had been used to attach the trellis in the fence. They were well nailed in, and pulling them out might damage the fence. Besides, they blended in and didn’t bother me too much once the trellis was gone.

Sometimes it’s better to leave old nails in place. If I’d desperately wanted to remove them, a quick snip at the elbow with bolt cutters before teasing the ends out with pliers would do the trick.

The old plants were snipped apart with a pair of secateurs (they weren’t very big plants!), and went into the compost, not being large enough to burn.

One of the plants was a rose, so I cut it down to the base, and will dig up the root stock and transplant it.

A job for another day!

The rose bush and other plants hadn’t been pruned in a long time and were no good. I’ve saved the rose root stock though, and will transplant it elsewhere.

The water blaster was the perfect tool for the job of fence-cleaning and removing all the green built-up.It was pretty filthy!

Half the back fence done. My partner Matt got a bit bored and started “drawing” with the water blaster in the moss build up. Could’ve been worse – at least it was just a number!

There! Two hours later it’s much better!

Looks like a new fence now! So much better!

Just one afternoon of work can make a huge difference.

Looking after a house and garden and keeping them in good order is often just a matter of easy jobs performed regularly.

It’s also a matter of having the right tools. A water blaster made this job really easy, but if we didn’t have one, we’d have used scrubbing brushes and soapy water – plus elbow grease.

Over the next year we have our work cut out for us. We’ll be painting the entire house, inside and out, and remodelling a bathroom that is truly antiquated. Plus we’ll be doing a lot of gardening, making our outdoors a lovely place to be.

I’m looking forward to all of it!

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!


3 simple rules for keeping flat surfaces clear

Do flat surfaces in your home just seem to attract every single piece of junk that is lying around?

If you’re anything like me, flat surfaces have been an ongoing problem that can be hard to resolve – unless you have the tools and knowhow to stop them becoming serious clutter-collectors.

So here’s the three simple rules I use to keep flat surfaces clear:

1. If it isn’t a “display item”, don’t display it!
2. No more than three items on any flat surface.
3. Wipe down working surfaces at least twice a week.

I’ll be honest – these rules require discipline, and it takes time to learn to have discipline. But they’re great rules to have in your pocket, and they will keep flat surfaces clear if you begin to practice them throughout your home.

I talk about the 3 simple rules in a bit more detail below.

1. If it isn’t a “display item”, don’t display it!

In short, nobody wants you to display your clutter, your child’s dirty underwear or your unpaid gas bills!

Flat surfaces are for displaying items of value or purpose. They’re also for occasional use – for items we’re currently using then we put away again afterwards.

An example might be a television remote – we use it, rest it on a coffee table while we’re watching TV at night, then put it away safely in a drawer in when we’re done with watching.

In wet areas such as the kitchen, flat surfaces are for working and preparing food. Not for keeping knick-knacks and junk mail.

In the bathroom, flat surfaces are for personal grooming. Once we’re done using the flat surface to put our grooming tools on, the items are stored away again. Exceptions are a bar of soap, and maybe a glass containing toothbrushes and paste. Individual personal items should be stored out of sight and away, or a family bathroom can get cluttered really quickly!

If your flat surfaces are covered in stuff that isn’t “display” items or of current actual use, bag the items in a plastic bag, then sort through them. Discard anything you don’t use and find appropriate places for items of value and purpose.

2. No more than 3 items on any flat surface.

This is what I call my “Enid Blyton” rule, and it’s a good one 😉 In Blyton’s “The Naughtiest Girl in the School”, the protagonist learns that each child may have three items on her nightstand.

Three items should be enough for anyone on any flat surface. Having a set number of items for flat surfaces makes them easy to dust and keep clean, because you don’t have to move a host of items to wipe the surface down. It’s also safer in earthquakes or fires.

Some people choose to rotate their items, and others keep their items the same year after year. But the 3 item rule will help keep your flat surfaces clear.

flat surfaces clean

The top of my tallboy. Two perfume bottles and an antique horse that I’ve had for 30 years now. It’s easy to keep uncluttered surfaces clean 🙂

3. Wipe down working surfaces at least twice a week.

I wipe down bathroom and kitchen surfaces about twice a week. My mother would be shocked at this – she wipes hers down every morning and night! 😉

Wiping down working surfaces helps keep things tidy. As you wipe, put away anything that shouldn’t be out on display, and bin anything that is post date. I’ve a habit of leaving cleaning products out after I’ve done with them, so wiping reminds me to put everything away.

For kitchens sponges and plugs, I keep a plastic container under the sink. I wring out anything that is wet, and store it out of sight. Because we have a dishwasher, there is no need to keep our plug and dishwashing liquid on the sink the whole time.

Items I keep on the kitchen bench all the time include: handwashing soap and the kettle. Sometimes the loaf of bread that is currently being eaten, as we go through a LOT of bread!

Why these rules? Why bother?

I like living in a relaxed, peaceful haven of a home. I don’t feel like I can ever truly relax when I’m looking around at piles of junk, washing to be sorted and put away, or clutter on flat surfaces.

Living in an uncluttered home is healthier, especially for people with allergies and disabilities. Clutter-free homes are easier to keep clean, and have lower levels of dust and dirt. It’s well-known that people who live in clutter-free homes are also relaxed and less stressed.

Then there’s the issue of health and safety. People have been trapped in homes and died in fires and earthquakes because their homes were too cluttered, especially in hallways and corridors. If nothing else, keep these narrow spaces absolutely clear.

Then there’s the cleaning. Anyone who is the principal cleaner in their home (*waves*) probably feels like they do enough of that already! Reducing the clutter makes cleaning easier and less time-consuming.

Give 3 simple rules for flat surfaces a try. Let me know how you get on! 🙂

What are you afraid of? It’s time to let go!

So much of our stuff we hang on to through fear.

Here are 17 reasons why we might be afraid to let go of all our clutter. Do some of these sound familiar?

  1. Fear we might need the thing tomorrow.
  2. Fear that old table of grandpa’s we always hated “might suddenly be worth something.”
  3. Fear the person who gave us our stuff might be upset if we get rid of it.
  4. Fear we might miss our old belongings, because they give us comfort.
  5. Fear we might change our mind and want the whatever-it-was back.
  6. Fear that we’ll fall on hard times and really need to sell the cheap jewellery our first boyfriend gave us.
  7. Fear that we wasted lots of money on stuff we didn’t need and we’re actually a bit of a fool.
  8. Fear granddad’s soul will rise from the grave if we sell his old, dilapidated chair.
  9. Fear the zombies will come and we really will need those hundreds of sachets of salt and pepper from McDonalds!
  10. Fear our children will hate us if we clean their rooms and throw away their forgotten toys, rubbish, and outgrown clothing.
  11. Fear that we’re a failure because we really were going to lose the weight and get into that old dress again someday.
  12. Fear that if we throw out our teenage clothes we actually are growing old after all!
  13. Fear that if we get rid of all those expensive hair tonics we really are bald, and the comb-over isn’t fooling anyone!
  14. Fear that throwing out expensive mistakes in our closets confirms that we actually did make mistakes. We’re human! Oh no!
  15. Fear that maybe we’re not the quilter / seamstress / mosaic artist we hoped we’d be when we bought all those craft supplies.
  16. Fear that grandma’s ghost will come back and haunt us if we sell her old china!
  17. Fear that our babies really have grown up and they don’t need their bunny rugs any more.


Let it go.
Let it all go.
It’s just stuff.

A “packing party” – for kids!

Inspired by the Minimalists’ “packing party”, here’s a great way to clear out a child’s room in one afternoon. Reduce their belongings to only the stuff they actually use!

Version A: Brutal, quick minimalism

You’ll need:

  • Boxes, containers or shopping bags. We used recycled plastic shopping bags from the supermarket.
  • Separate box for “returns” Library books, sports club belongings etc.
  • Rubbish bin Anything that will rot or smell (food rubbish etc.) goes in here right away!
  • Clean, dry space. To store items away from child’s eyes for 30 days. A garage corner is ideal.
  • An indelible pen. Mark the bags or boxes as you pack.


  • Group similar items together. in your child’s room. For example, soft toys in the same bag with soft toys, Lego with Lego, dolls with dolls, computer games with computer games. Name each bag with indelible pen as you go.
  • Group items. If your child has a lot of belongings, you might need to put each grouping into several bags i.e. “lego A”, “lego B” and so on.
  • Clear the entire room. Bag clothes as well as electronics.
  • Pack “clean garbage” too. Old artwork, pens that don’t work, little pieces of paper on the floor – anything that won’t rot or smell needs to be bagged. Why? Because you don’t want to make it easy for your child to just grab everything right back again!
  • Return borrowed items. Anything that does not belong to your child and needs to be returned can be put aside into your separate “returns” box i.e. library books, school books etc. Ensure your child returns these items to their rightful owners this week.
  • Dispose of “dirty rubbish” immediately in the bin. Anything that will rot, smell or attract vermin should be disposed of in the bin.
  • Clear the whole room. Don’t sort it, or look at it too deeply, just bag it.
  • By the end of the process, which should take very long (no sorting or tidying, remember!) you should have several bags of clothing, toys, games etc. all bagged or boxed. The only things to leave in your child’s room should be enough clothing for the next three days, school uniform (if any) and bedding.
  • Store your boxes. Put your bags or boxes out in the garage, or wherever you intend to store them. Mark the date on the calendar.
  • When your child needs something: Get it for them as soon as you can but only if they can name it and play with it / use it immediately. Retrieve only the named item.
  • At the end of the month any unused items can be given away, sold or disposed of.

Version B: Soft, gentle minimalism

If the “packing party” sounds a bit brutal for you and your child, there’s a softer, gentler way.

  • Choose a half a dozen items that you haven’t seen your child use in a while, bag them, and take them out to the garage. Do this every week, once a week.
  • If your child doesn’t miss them for a month: Give away, sell or dispose of them.

4 simple steps to tidy kids bedrooms

With these simple steps, you can teach kids to not only keep their rooms tidy, but to keep their belongings well looked-after and manageable.

Step 1: Get your storage right

Four storage hubs per child is plenty:

  • 1. Wardrobe. Hang coats, jackets, jumpers. Shoes belong on the floor of the wardrobe.
  • 2. Chest of drawers. Drawers for underwear, socks, hats and gloves, trousers, and swimsuits. A separate drawer for each type of item.
  • 3. Bookcase. Not just books, also for displaying treasures collected on travels, and special prized possessions. My son has a collection of dragons, while my daughter keeps her “shopkins” toys in a cloth bucket on her bookshelf.
  • 4. Bucket. General toys that are too big for a bookcase belong in a bucket or crate. My daughter has a pink bucket for her soft toys. My son’s “bucket” is a plastic three-drawer set, as he’s into Lego and building stuff. Whatever works best.

Step 2: Cull regularly

  • One in, one out. Do regular culls of outgrown and disused items with your kids, and have a “one in, one out” policy.
  • Messy rooms = too much stuff. Always. If a child has problems with a very messy room or too many belongings, a “one in, two out” policy might work better for a while. If a room is constantly messy, more stuff needs to go.
  • The art of letting go. Help kids say goodbye to old stuff by explaining that old things need to make way for new, better belongings.
  • Donate freely. Bring your child to the charity drop-off point when donating items. My kids enjoy knowing their pre-loved items will help others.

    Bonus tip: Don’t let your kids inside the charity shop, or you might end up with more junk than you came to give away!

Step 3: Help kids with regular room cleaning

  • Kids need help. Most kids are not able to effectively clean their own rooms until they’re into their teenage years. They’ll just shuffle the mess around instead!
  • Active tidying requires removal of unnecessary belongings. Most children lack the willpower and drive to do this alone until they’re quite mature. So they need your help.
  • Teach correctly. Use tidying time to teach children correct ways to put away clothes (folded in drawers, hung correctly on hangers), and clothing care (folding socks in pairs, checking for damaged clothing, mending).
  • Kids need repetition. Kids need to be shown some skills many times before they grasp them properly. This is normal.
  • Kids need supervision. Without supervision, a typical child will dump clothing messily in drawers and at the bottom of wardrobes, or on the floor in piles.

I clean my children’s rooms with them about once every couple of months. That includes active removal of old clothes, old toys, and general junk lying around. Then we vacuum and dust together.

Step 4: Clean kids rooms together

  • Don’t be your children’s maid. Don’t be a mystical cleaning fairy, doing the work when your children aren’t around. They won’t learn anything that way!
  • Clean, dust and vacuum together. Let your child do what they can of the work themselves, even if it is slow.
  • Relax while they struggle. Jobs only get easier with practice. Work is meant to be hard when you’re new to it!
  • Give kids responsibility. Older children can – and should – do washing, ironing and mending of their own clothing and bedding.

    Older children can – and should – maintain their rooms fully, including changing light globes, washing windows, and mending any fixtures. They can also help paint and redecorate when needed.

Kids need to be taught how to care for their belongings and how to be tidy, and they need to be taught repeatedly until it’s a habit. It takes work to teach kids properly, but doing so will create tidy kids with great habits that will serve them well all through their lives – and yours.

Three steps to tidy kids

Again and again you hear, “My kids are so untidy! I’m neat and tidy, and I want to be a minimalist, but I have kids!”

Teaching kids good habits starts when, well, when they’re kids. I’ve never met a clutterbug adult who wasn’t a clutterbug kid. Or a slob adult who wasn’t a slob kid.

In my case, I grew up in a family that practically worshipped consumerism. Add that to the fact that my mother spent her whole life cleaning up after me (she made my bed for me well in to my twenties, I’m ashamed to say), and it took me a lot of work to learn how to be neat.

I’m still learning!

Teaching your kids neatness is a three step process:

Step 1: Edit their belongings.
Step 2: Capsule their belongings.
Step 3: Teach them to edit their own belongings.

Step 1: Edit their belongings.

Kids generate clutter. Everything from McToys to kid art, junk just seems to accumulate wherever there are children around.

It needs editing, and most of it can find a permanent home quickly – in the rubbish bin!

Kid clutter comes in four main categories:
1. Toys and games
2. Art and old schoolwork
3. Clothing
4. Plain ole rubbish.

Toys and games

McToys are a simple one – bin them! Sometimes we’ll keep a McToy for a day or two, but then out it goes. My kids never miss it.

My rules: If a toy (any toy) hasn’t been played with for six months, out it goes.
McToys (includes giveaways, birthday gifts and disposables) are fair game from the moment they are given.
Don’t be afraid to re-gift or onsell.

Child art

Child art goes on the fridge, and is rotated. Art projects have a short, one-month deadline before they’re binned. If you want, take a photograph and send to loving relatives. But remember that the most important thing isn’t the end result, it’s the process, and the learning your child does along the way.

My rule: if it isn’t good enough to frame, put behind glass and hang on the wall, it needs to go in the bin after a brief “approval period”.

Child clothing

Likewise, child wardrobes needs regular editing. We edit ours every season, when I do mine. Don’t expect a child under the age of 18 to do this alone – they need help and support, and often a ruthless hand and eye.

My rules: No child needs more than four pairs of shoes and six t-shirts.
No child needs outgrown clothes, or damaged clothes.
No child needs clothes they never wear (for whatever reason).

Plain ole rubbish

You know where this goes!

Ensure your child has a rubbish bin in their bedroom, and they use and empty it regularly.

We have a no eating or drinking in the bedrooms policy for our kids. It works wonders in keeping bedrooms free of rubbish.

Step 2: Capsule their belongings.

Ensure everything has a place, and your child learns the correct place for their belongings.

This is called capsuling.

Plastic crates and tubs are ideal for toys and games.

Clothing belongs in drawers and hanging in wardrobes (if your child has problems reaching their hangers, you can buy lower racks for wardrobes like these, or an adjustable portable clothing rack). Not on the floor.
If your child leaves an item on the floor, remove it and charge dollars (or chores!) for its return.

Shoes – and nothing else – belong on wardrobe floors.

If counters become cluttered, remove the items and charge the child for the items return. Or simply bin the items. Be ruthless!

Step 3: Teach them to edit their own belongings.

Teach your child how to dispose of their belongings that are no longer needed.

Children under the age of 10 are usually unable to dispose of their own belongings, but as they get older, they become quite good at this.

Sell old items and give your child the proceeds. They’ll soon learn to love selling items they no longer need! My son made a lot of money selling his old lego, and my daughter made plenty from her old dollhouse. Now she wants to sell her outgrown dolls pram! 🙂

Children often also love passing old items on to charity. Teaching children how to be generous is no bad thing, I think 🙂

The key to success…

The keys to success are:
Declutter with your child
Declutter regularly
Be ruthless with art, McToys and gifts
A place for everything, and everything in its place.