Posted in Family, Personal life, Writing

Keep Calm and Tidy Up

Cover of the April 2020 issues of the Tetbury Advertiser
Click the image to read this month’s issue in full online for free

My column for the April 2020 issue of the Tetbury Advertiser, written just as Covid-19 lockdown was beginning here in the UK. outlines my usual response to a crisis: tidying up.

In times of crisis, tidy up.

For years this mantra has helped me dispel anxiety. Sometimes I don’t even realise I’ve deployed it until my husband complains that I’ve rearranged the furniture yet again, expressing his fervent hope that this time I will feel I’ve finally got it right.

We will always have worries in our lives, due to personal, national and global issues. How dull life would be without cares. But any adverse situation in the wider world is easier to handle when your home turf is under control.

photo of packed bookshelves
Very proud of my newly tidy bookshelves – featuring my Alice in Wonderland collection and books about knitting and sewing. With apologies to Marie Kondo…

Not that I’m a disciple of Japanese decluttering guru Marie Kondo. No matter how sweetly charming she is in her books, on her tv show and in the media, I cannot buy into a philosophy that advocates each household should have no more than a dozen books.

Our smallest room alone would fill that quota, and I wouldn’t want to live in there. But having Marie-Kondo’d my usually packed diary to the point of blankness (with apologies for the postponement of my scheduled local talks and the Hawkesbury Upton Lit Fest), I’m planning to fill my windfall of  leisure time by rationalising my possessions.

Calm in a Crisis

By the time the Covid-19 all-clear sounds, my bookshelves, wardrobe, craft supplies, board-games cupboard and larder should all be in perfect order. I’ll have bagged up all surplus items ready to take to charity shops.

Once the weather warms up, my garden will be the most weed-free it is ever likely to be. The year I moved in to my cottage, an elderly neighbour whose own plot was immaculate leaned over our shared wall and surveyed my fine crop of dandelion clocks to offer a friendly, folksy warning:

“One year’s weeds, seven years’ seeds.”

photo of garden with ladders, tools etc
A work-in-progress: the taming of the garden

Given that my garden has never been weed-free since, I daren’t do the sums to work out how many weed seeds are stored up out there, but this spring will surely be my best chance of reclaiming the soil for things I do intend to grow.

Come to think of it, there’s never been a better time to strive for self-sufficiency. If only I had a packet of toilet roll seeds…


Shelves Aplenty

interior shot of tidy walk-in larder
The installation of an additional shelf by my DIY-mad husband inspired me to rationalise our walk-in larder

So, while at the time of writing, the media may be full of horror stories of supermarket shelves stripped bare, I predict that later this year, charity shops will have the opposite problem: such bulging stocks that shoppers can barely fit through the door to buy them.

In the meantime, should I tire of my husband’s complaints about the disruption within our four walls, I may find myself fantasising about despatching him to a charity shop with a label round his neck, Paddington-style:

“Please look after this Scotsman (one previous careful owner)”.

But there again he is very handy at putting up shelves. He’s busy installing a new one in the larder as I type. Perhaps that’s what’s missing in Marie Kondo’s life: she just needs a DIY-mad partner to accommodate all her stuff.

To read the Tetbury Advertiser in full online for free, click here.

cover of Young by Name
Earlier columns from the Tetbury Advertiser, available in paperback and ebook

If you enjoy reading my monthly columns in the Tetbury Advertiser, you might like to know that the first six years’ columns are compiled into a book that shares its title with my column in the magazine: Young By Name. Available in ebook and in paperback, it’s a lighthearted collection of short pieces that makes calming bedtime reading. Also a good buy for your smallest room! 

Click here to order as an ebook

Click here to order the paperback from Amazon


Posted in Writing

The Perfect Tidying Storm

Order out of chaos in the utility room

This week my house hasn’t known what’s hit it. Never one to do today whatever housework can be put off till tomorrow, I’ve been decluttering like a demon, filling bags and boxes with stuff to eject, and turning out drawers with the exactitude and application of someone training for an Olympic medal in tidiness.
Continue reading “The Perfect Tidying Storm”

Posted in Family, Personal life

When it Comes to Christmas Presents, Small is Beautiful

Laura's display of Playmobil characters and other small friends ice-skating at Christmas (Note Santa passing by in his sleigh)

‘Tis the season to start tidying!

In the Young household, the arrival of the Advent calendar kicks off our annual quest to banish clutter. When Santa arrives, we don’t want to have to tell him there’s no room for new toys – or so I keep telling my daughter Laura.

Not that we’re anticipating a flurry of extravagant gifts this year. Now approaching her ninth festive season, Laura has produced a positively frugal letter to Santa, reflecting our current economic climate. Even if he delivers everything on her Christmas list, it won’t take up much space. The intriguingly specific “yellow and white doggy key-ring” and “a biro with different colours” should fit easily in her pocket, while the requested “air freshener” will require only a couple of square inches of shelf space.

While I applaud my daughter’s restraint, I’m anxious that she doesn’t miss out on the most important Christmas present of all: a large cardboard box  to play for the rest of the holidays. (They don’t call it Boxing Day for nothing.) A few weeks ago I invested in a big wooden ottoman for my bedroom. The even bigger cardboard outer in which it was packaged has since provided Laura with many happy hours of creative play. First of all it was a bus, taking her cuddly toys on outings. Then, as easily as Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, it turned amphibious, morphing first into a rowing boat then into a sailing ship. With the children from next door as stowaways, she spent a happy Saturday sailing round the living room. You don’t need to live in the Lake District to beat Swallows and Amazons at their own game.

Laura’s pocket-sized presents are the antidote to the huge items on my husband’s wish-list. After a pleasant hour of Googling, “a large telescope with stand” is soon joined by “a powerful SLR camera” without which, it seems, no serious telescope is complete. At least I won’t have to find house-room for these gifts, because he’s also desirous of “a garden observatory” in which to use them. I’d like to see the postman fit that through our letterbox.

To be honest, I’m now at an age when I neither need nor covet Christmas presents. I’d be happier to have none at all. For me, as an atheist, the festive season is all about spending quality time with family and friends, and I’m planning my December social calendar like a military campaign. Though to my mind there’s no finer place than Gloucestershire to spend Christmas, our festive tour of duty will take us as far afield as Scotland to ensure we can catch up with all those we love best. The only disadvantage is that after this holiday, I think I’ll need another one to recover. Alternatively I could just go AWOL now and again to escape the action – unless Santa brings me the one thing featured on my Christmas wish-list: a cloak of invisibility.

Happy Christmas, everyone!

(This post was originally written for the December 2011 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser.)